401. ‘When I Need You’, by Leo Sayer

Oh boy. More soft-rock…

When I Need You, by Leo Sayer (his 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th February – 6th March 1977

We’re really hitting a slow and slushy moment in chart history. It must have been great at school discos, I suppose, with no shortage of last-dance tunes in which to snag your latest crush. But it doesn’t make for a very exciting listen forty odd years later.

It’s got all the instruments we’ve come to expect: gentle guitars, tinkly percussion, a glossy echo to everything. (Plus, this record has a secret weapon – more on that in a moment.) When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you… Leo Sayer’s missing his girl while he works away from home… For some reason that I can’t quite place, I’m enjoying this more than the last-but-one chart topper, David Soul’s equally smoochy ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’. I think it’s the slightly funkier rhythm. If this one was sped up – a lot – it could be a disco classic.

I also like the emphatic It’s cold out, Just hold out… line. Plus, Leo Sayer’s voice has got a lot more oomph to it than Soul’s. He lets loose, in a fashion, for the fade-out. But, before that, we come to the secret weapon… the sax solo! Unleashed from out of the blue! They’re something we’ll have to get used to as the ’80s loom, but they’ve never sat well with me. Done well they’re fine; done badly they sound like the soundtrack to a bad date, or a porno.

It is sometimes hard to focus on the lyrics in songs like this, as they’re usually of the don’t leave me baby hold me baby variety. But, on closer inspection, on listen three or four, as Leo talks about closing his eyes and touching love while on the phone to his girl, and beseeching her to ‘do as he does’… I begin to wonder… Is this record actually about phone sex??

Or am I grasping to make it more interesting than it is? ‘When I Need You’ was the follow-up to the dorky but super catchy ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’, which I would have much preferred as a #1. As it stands, this makes it four slow and soft #1s in a row, and five out of the last six. It’s not something that you say every day, but thank God for Showaddywaddy! Looking to the next chart-topper on my list, a record I have never heard before, I offer a silent prayer that it might be up-tempo.

Leo Sayer had been scoring hits since 1973, and had peaked at #2 three times before this one took him all the way. He will be back on top, but not for twenty-nine years, when he’ll feature on a remix of one of his seventies hits. That’s one of the longest gaps between number ones, ever. Meanwhile, ‘When I Need You’ has been covered by the great and the good of easy listening: Cliff, Julio Iglesias, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion… Leonard Cohen wasn’t as impressed by it, though – he sued Sayer for plagiarising his song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat”.

14 thoughts on “401. ‘When I Need You’, by Leo Sayer

  1. The only positive thing I can say about “When I Need You” is that it’s at least tolerable than his last hit “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” which had hit #1 that January on the Hot 100 since he doesn’t do that insufferable falsetto that ruined any enjoyment to an otherwise fun sounding song. Here he tries to be an R&B balladeer with how he stretches out his notes and puts a lot of emotion into his singing. Even though he’s not convincing in that aspect, he does try his best with what he’s given. And it helps that the people playing here are veteran session players from the film composer James Newton Howard on synths, future Christopher Cross producer Michael Omartian on electric piano, Toto drummer Jeff Pocaro on drums, and the Rolling Stones sax player Bobby Keys providing that solo. Even with all that talent, “When I Need You” doesn’t rise above being fine enough and instantly fades into the background. Agree with Tom Breihan’s take in his review, “But even though all the people involved do their jobs commendably, “When I Need You” is just not a special song. It’s a perfectly OK piece of ’70s balladry, warm and comforting and inert. Sayer sings the song hard enough to convince me that he means it, but he doesn’t convince me that I should care.”

    1. Falsetto aside, ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’ is a catchy little pop song and, like I said in the post, I’d much prefer that to have been the #1… This one is fine for what it is, but what it is is not what I like!

      1. Yeah what comes to mind when I hear “When I Need You” are those soft rock compilation informercials where this would make perfect bumper music. Leo Sayer is one of those artists that just exists who’s able to notch some big hits but without much of a personality or a persona to grab onto so it’s not surprising he faded after the ‘70s with his last big US hit being his cover of the Crickets’ “More Than I Can Say” peaking at #2 in late 1980 behind #1s by Kenny Rogers and John Lennon.

  2. badfinger20 (Max)

    The song sticks in my head and was a regular with my sister around to spin it over and over again…the guy reminds me of Richard Simmons.

    1. I just had to Google who Richard Simmons is… My word!

      And yes – this is such a ‘crap your older sister listens to’ record! (Not that I have a sister, but I can imagine…)

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        He does remind me of him!

        Yep! I remember when ever Tammy (sister) broke up with a guy…out came the Osmonds or whatever breakup record and I heard it over and over.

      2. badfinger20 (Max)

        LOL…yep! They are two of a kind! I mean the same.

        Yes she did it….exposed me to all kinds of bad music…but that is alright…she showed me a few good things like the band Bread and Jim Croce.

  3. Leo Sayer is great. This record isn’t. It SHOULD be great on paper: Leo is a terrific songwriter, and records like The Show Must Go On (ruined by serial song killers Three Dog Night in the US), Moonlighting, One man band, Long Tall Glasses, and even You make Me Feel Like Dancin’ and the minor-hit follow-up to this (which I loved, but had to wait decades for it to hit the top spot) would have been preferable. I can’t even blame the songwriters (leo usually wrote his own stuff, but for some MOR reason he decided bland was the way to go and covered this song by the great Albert Hammond – of It Never rains In Southern California fame, but who wrote many a hit record for others, including future chart-toppers Aswad, Starship, and the brilliant Hollies classic The Air That I Breathe – and quirky 1977 hitmaker Carole Bayer-Sager who’s You’re Moving Out Today is hilarious, so I’m well in on your phone-sex theory being a likelihood, and who will also be back on top with a Phil Collins cover, and oodles of other famous hits like 1977’s Carly Simon Bond theme.

    So, as Leo largely sabotaged his own career by moving into bland ballads, I went reluctantly with a friend to see him at a small arts venue in Wimborne, Dorset a few years back – and he was great! Energetic, enthusiastic, and his band were more than able to keep up with his ad-libbing jazzy musical jumping abouts. Then I saw Albert Hammond at the same venue, and my word what a song catalogue!

    So, just so I can ruin this song for anyone who also dislikes, hates or loves it: when I hear it, all I hear is “When I Kneed You”. Hah! 🙂

    1. Or indeed ‘When I Knead You’, the baker’s anthem… So you think it’s an off-day for the singer and the songwriters? I’d go along with that. Though I’m not sure there’s anything specifically wrong with the record, other than it being bland…

      1. Hah! Not sure it’s an off-day for Leo Sayer, more a statement of intent as he droned on with terrible records in the later 70’s like I Can’t Stop Loving You, Have You Ever Been In Love and a few passable covers in the 80’s like More Than I Can Say, Heart (Stop Beating In Time) and one great ballad in Orchard Road which he co-wrote with Cliff’s career saviour Alan Tarney. The one who’ll pop up soon with Cliff’s greatest number one, who wrote & produced most of his best 80’s songs, and just for an encore produced a-ha’s greatest moment and chart-topper 🙂

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