Origin Stories: Anne Murray on “You Needed Me”
Thankfully for Murray, that wasn’t the case.
“You Needed Me,” which appeared on her 12th studio album, Let’s Keep It That Way, revitalized her career and became her biggest record to date.
At 33, Murray had plenty to phone home about. She had already released a string of radio hits including a rendition of Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song” (1972), “A Love Song” (1973), “He Thinks I Still Care” (1973), and a Top 10 cover of The Beatles’ “You Won’t See Me” (1974). She had clocked both record sales and television ratings in the millions, but her focus was shifting. She and then husband, producer and longtime host of Singalong Jubilee, Bill Langstroth, had just started a family.
“Four years is quite a long time between hit songs,” says Murray. “At least it was in those days. As an artist, you do start to get a bit uneasy, but I had also just become a mother for the first time, so I had other things on my mind. Sometimes that works well because you’re not as nervous or scared and scrambling. ‘You Needed Me’ just seemed to come into my life at the right moment, and everything else aligned.”
Interestingly, Murray discovered the song in a box of cassette tapes she had previously marked, “Listen To Again,” but it wasn’t until she did so that she heard everything the song could be.
“I was going through so many tapes in those days,” says Murray. “Every day people would send them to me and I would have hundreds and hundreds of tapes. Sometimes your ears take a beating and you don’t know what you’re hearing any more, so I would have to put things aside. If the songs had any hope at all I would put them in that box. That’s where ‘You Needed Me’ was when I found it.
“When I listened to it again I had to sit down because I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard it the first time,” she adds. “It was staggeringly beautiful and staggeringly good. I was just breathless when I heard it. I knew, I just knew.”
So moved by the song, Murray immediately picked up the phone and placed a call to her office.
“I just said, ‘You’ve got to find out about this song and how we put it on hold.’ In my mind it was just so good that it really couldn’t be stopped.”
Written several years prior by Nashville-based songwriter Randy Goodrum, “You Needed Me” almost didn’t see the light of day.
“Randy wrote the song for his wife,” says Murray. “And, it’s pretty self-explanatory, kind of like, ‘I can’t believe you love me the way you do.’ My understanding is that when he first showed it to her, she sort of said, ‘Yeah yeah, it’s nice,’ which obviously wasn’t the response Randy was hoping for,” says Murray with a laugh. “So, he crumpled it up and threw it out. I’m still not entirely sure how it found its way to me.”
But, despite its obvious appeal, “You Needed Me” wasn’t an easy sell. Murray’s label, Capitol Records, didn’t like the fact that the song had been written without a traditional chorus and felt it wasn’t exactly a surefire pick.
“It’s funny because when I started playing the song for people, that songwriter form was so deeply ingrained in everybody’s heads that they couldn’t get over the fact that it needed a chorus. We even went out and tried to get somebody to write one. I mean how stupid is that? But, those were the sorts of questions that were flying around. I just kept saying, ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s too good.’”
To complicate matters further, the label had already selected the title track, “Let’s Keep It That Way,” as the album’s first single and sent the record out to be pressed.
“When I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere at home, I went to see the president of Capitol Records, Don Zimmerman, at the Capitol Records Tower in Los Angeles,” recalls Murray. “I just told him, ‘You’ve got to do this for me. I just have such a strong feeling about this song.’
“I had never, ever asked him to do anything for me before. Generally, the label would suggest things and I usually did them, but for whatever reason this particular time he just looked at me and said, ‘Okay.’ He picked up the phone and stopped the presses on the spot, and well, when it went to number one, we both looked like heroes.”
The recording session for “You Needed Me” was an especially memorable one for Murray. In fact, it’s her personal favourite.
“When we recorded that song, everyone in the studio was so excited, and these guys were studio players who played for a lot of great artists, but they were just absolutely blown away,” she says. “When we were finished with the song, everybody went silent. We all went into the control room to hear the playback and everyone was just looking at each other shaking their heads––nobody knew what to say. It was truly the most magical moment of my recording career.”
Following the song’s release, “You Needed Me” climbed to the No. 1 chart position on the Billboard Hot 100, it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Country chart, and spent a then record-breaking 36-weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart as well. The song also went on to win Song of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 1979 and beat out songs recorded by Barbra Streisand, Olivia Newton-John, Donna Summer and Carly Simon at the 21st Annual Grammy Awards, earning Murray the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance––the first for a Canadian artist.
Today at 72, Murray, who has since been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, still holds “You Needed Me” incredibly close to her heart.
“When I started recording ‘You Needed Me’ in 1977, my son Will was just a year old,” she says. “He was around it all the time, so it’s very much a part of him. When he was a toddler, we even recorded our own little version of it where the two of us are singing together.
“He was actually here visiting on Saturday with his two little girls, and we were looking at the Billboard plaque that I have on my wall and I just told him, ‘That’s going to be for you Will.’ It’s funny because he was looking at the other songs on the chart at that time and it was stuff like, ‘Who Are You?’ from The Who and ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ from Barbra Streisand, and yet ‘You Needed Me’ still went number one, so it really was pretty amazing.”
From first listen to the success that followed it, “You Needed Me” became a cornerstone for Murray. When she won the Grammy in 1979, she was actually sitting at home in a Lazy Boy recliner, pregnant and not far off from giving birth to her second child.
Her steadfast belief in the song’s ability to connect with a worldwide audience effectively changed the trajectory of her career as an artist, but it was motherhood and her growing young family that gave “You Needed Me” continued meaning and saw her music become perpetually intertwined with her life.
[This article was originally published via the National Music Centre.]
[Featured image by Larry LeBlanc.]