Published on July 14, 2016
“Lean on Me” is a song written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Bill Withers. It was released in April 1972 as the first single from his second album, Still Bill. It was his first and only number one single on both the soul singles and the Billboard Hot 100. Billboard ranked it as the No. 7 song of 1972. It is ranked number 205 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Numerous cover versions have been recorded, and it is one of only nine songs to have reached No. 1 with versions recorded by two different artists.
Withers’ childhood in the coal mining town of Slab Fork, West Virginia, was the inspiration for “Lean on Me”, which he wrote after he had moved to Los Angeles and found himself missing the strong community ethic of his hometown. He lived in a decrepit house in the poor section of town.
Withers recalled to Songfacts the original inspiration for the song:
“I bought a little piano and I was sitting there just running my fingers up and down the piano. In the course of doing the music, that phrase crossed my mind, so then you go back and say, ‘OK, I like the way that phrase, Lean On Me, sounds with this song.'”
Several members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band were used for the recording session in 1972. A string section was also included as well.
Wither’s version is noted for its Bridge section: (“Just call on me, brother”), as well as the Coda section, where the words: Call Me,” is repeated a total of 14 times, before the song ends on a cadenza on the strings. Several radio stations, as well as the single version, fade out during the repeated Coda, due to time limits as well as the repetition of the lyrics. Some radio versions cut the number of “Call Me’s” to six times before the song’s end.