Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: Leo Sayer, “When I Need You”

Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Leo Sayer ENDLESS FLIGHT Album Cover

42 years ago this week, Leo Sayer sat atop the Billboard Hot 100 for the second – and, as of this writing – final time in his career with a ballad that led to a lawsuit from Leonard Cohen…or Leonard Cohen’s people, anyway.

Co-written by Albert Hammond and Carole Bayer-Sager, “When I Need You” was – like the rest of the songs on ENDLESS FLIGHT, from which it hails – produced by Richard Perry, an LP which proved to be the biggest of Sayer’s career. This success is easily attributed to two factors: this single and the one which preceded it, “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” otherwise known as Sayer’s other #1 hit in America.

It probably wouldn’t be fair to say that this success was tarnished by the subsequent lawsuit, mostly because the average person who remembers the song does not, in fact, remember the lawsuit. That said, if you’re curious, we’ll clue you in: the chorus of “When I Need You” is musically identical to the portion of Leonard Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Raincoat” where Cohen sings, “Jane came by with a lock of your hair / She said that you gave it to her that night / That you planned to go clear.” When asked about it in 2006 by The Globe and Mail, Cohen replied, “Somebody sued them on my behalf…and they did settle,” then he laughed and admitted, “They hired a musicologist who said that particular motif was in the public domain and, in fact, could be traced back as far as Schubert.”

In the long run, what matters most is the success of “When I Need You,” and – boy howdy! – was it successful: in addition to topping the Hot 100, it also topped the Adult Contemporary chart in the US and topped the pop charts in the UK, Canada, and Ireland.


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