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"When I Need You"
Leo Sayer
Warner Bros. 8332
May 1977
Billboard: #1    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

Leo Sayer want to be a success. I have giant ambitions," Leo Sayer confessed in a 1975 Billboard interview. "I want to be as important as Dylan. I want to leave my audience with the feeling that something important has gone on. I don't want to be just another rock 'n' roll singer."

Leo Sayer's first number one single, "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing," was still in the Top 30 during the week of February 26, 1977, when his next release, "When I Need You," debuted at 81. While the former was an upbeat, disco-tinged pop number, the latter was a throwback to the poignant songs of his earlier albums. "I feel less a part of rock now than I did before," Sayer told Franc Gavin of Rock Around the World magazine in 1977. "As you get older you tend to take your heroes with you. You don't find many new ones. I owe the biggest debt to people like Bobby 'Blue' Bland, James Brown, the Staples, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson... some people think I'm falling into an R&B trip. Maybe not. It's still Leo Sayer music."

"When I Need You" was the second consecutive number one single from the Richard Perry-produced Endless Flight LP. Known for his work with Barbra Streisand, Nilsson, Ringo Starr and Carly Simon, Perry was considered a vocalist's producer. "Perry got me performing on records rather than just writing songs and singing them," Sayer told Newsweek. "I've let go and it's changed my life."

The Very Best of Leo Sayer
"When I Need You" was a #1 hit from Leo Sayer's platinum-selling late 1976 album Endless Flight, which also featured another #1, "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing." In 2000, Rhino Records released The Very Best of Leo Sayer (above), a 16-song CD featuring all eight of Sayer's American Top 40 hits.
Perry described their working relationship to Rolling Stone: "When I first started working with Leo, he came with a cassette of 12 new songs, none of which got recorded. That's a pretty heavy blow for an artist to be told that none of these songs are of any interest to me."

"One of the songs Perry brought to Sayer was "When I Need You." The lyrics were by Carole Bayer Sager, whose credits include "A Groovy Kind of Love" and "Come in From the Rain" as well as the Broadway show They're Playing Our Song. The music was composed by Albert Hammond, best known for his number five hit in December, 1972, "It Never Rains In Southern California," and for writing "The Air That I Breathe" and "To All the Girls I've Loved Before."

Hammond called Sager for help with the song. "He was in desperate need of a lyricist," she relates. "He was recording an album for Columbia in a few weeks and the fellow that he originally wrote most of his songs with... was missing. So he came up to my apartment and he played me three melodies." One of them turned out to be "When I Need You," a song Carole based on Albert's personal experiences. "Albert travelled a lot at the time and we were talking about the difficulties of being away from someone that you love."

Albert recorded "When I Need You" first, on a 1976 album, and Perry used that version as the prototype. "I think Richard actually cut the song twice because he wasn't happy with the first production, so he cut it with another rhythm section," Sager continues. "It was an easy song to write and often with myself anything that would be too easy I often discount as not being as good as something I labored over. Consequently I never thought very much of the song because it just seemed too simplistic to me. I don't think (Richard) really knew it was a hit either."

"When I Need You" turned out to be Sayer's biggest hit record. It was his first number one single in Britain, where he had hit the number two spot with three different singles. In America, it was his last Top 10 single until his remake of Bobby Vee's "More Than I Can Say" settled in at number two for four weeks in December, 1980.

Sayer enjoyed several more hits in his native Britain through 1983 and even had his own television series there, but as the decade ended he was without a recording contract. His last chart entry in America was the early 1981 hit "Living In a Fantasy." An attempted U.K. comeback in 1990 with his Cool Touch album failed to restore his career.

- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.

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