On This Day in 1972: Bill Withers Scored His Only No. 1 Hit on the ‘Billboard’ Hot 100 with “Lean on Me”

On this day (July 8) in 1972, soulful singer/songwriter Bill Withers scored his only No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with the enduring ballad “Lean on Me.” The song was the lead single from Withers’ sophomore effort, Still Bill.

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“Lean on Me” was released in April 1972 in advance of the Still Bill album. It knocked Neil Diamond’s “Song Sung Blue” from the top of the Hot 100, and spent three weeks at No. 1. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s melancholy ballad “Alone Again (Naturally)” bumped “Lean on Me” from the top of the chart.

[RELATED: 3 Eternal Songs by Bill Withers that Have Stood the Test of Time]

“Lean on Me” is a heartfelt song about showing kindness and support for someone when they’re going through a hard time. In a 2004 interview with Songfacts, Withers revealed that he wrote the tune on a Wurlitzer piano he’d bought with money he earned from his first album.

Withers noted that he started playing a simple series of chords when the phrase “lean on me” crossed his mind. Explaining how he approached writing the lyrics, he noted, “[Y]ou go back and say, ‘How do I arrive at this as a conclusion to a statement? What would I say that would cause me to say ‘Lean on Me?’”

Withers continued, “Then at that point, it’s between you and your actual feelings, you and your morals and what you’re really like.” He noted his rural upbringing, where he routinely saw people show kindness to each other, likely influenced what he wrote in the song.

More About Bill Withers

Withers was born and raised in West Virginia, and served in the U.S. Navy from the age of 17 to 26. He was 29 when he relocated to Los Angles to start his music career, and 32 when he released his debut album, Just as I Am, in 1971.

That album featured his first hit, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which reached No. 3 on the Hot 100. The song also won a Grammy in the Best Rhythm & Blues Song category. Just as I Am was produced by Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MG’s fame. The album featured contributions from Stephen Stills and the MG’s rhythm section—bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson Jr.

In contrast, Withers recorded and produced Still Bill with members of his touring band. In addition, to “Lean on Me,” the album featured a second hit single, the funky “Use Me,” which peaked at No. 2 on the Hot 100.

More About “Lean on Me”

“Lean on Me” became a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 for a second time in 1987, thanks to a dance version of the tune by R&B group Club Nouveau. Club Nouveau’s cover also earned Withers another Best Rhythm & Blues Song Grammy in 1988, as the composer of the tune.

Other artists who have covered “Lean on Me” include Johnny Mathis, Tina Turner, Tom Jones, Al Green, and Glen Campbell.

The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.

Withers was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. During the ceremony, Stevie Wonder and John Legend performed “Lean on Me.” Bill, who had retired from the music industry in the 1980s, joined Wonder and Legend in the middle of the performance to sing a few lines of the tune.

Withers died of heart disease on March 2020 at the age of 81.

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