In 1972, Townes Van Zandt recorded “If I Needed You” on his album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Nine years later, Emmylou Harris enlisted the help of Don Williams for a duet on the song. It was then released as the first single off Harris’ album Cimarron.
While the song may never have been intended as a duet, Harris’ gentle folk-country vocal and Williams’ smooth baritone blended beautifully, creating one of the most romantic pairings in the country catalog. Harris and Williams’ version went on No. 3 on the Billboard’s Hot Country Songs in the United States while it snagged the top spot in Canadian RPM Country tracks.
Covered most recently by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires for a Don Williams tribute album, it has also been cut previously by Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, Doc Watson, and many others. In 2014 husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory also recorded a cover for their album Country Classics: A Tapestry of Our Musical Heritage. Though it was never released as a single and didn’t make its way onto the charts, it received some special recognition – Joey + Rory’s version of “If I Needed You” was nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance during the 2016 Grammy Awards.
One Of The Most Beautiful Ballads In Country Music
Written by Townes Van Zandt, “If I Needed You” is a beautiful ballad that shows the depths of a lover’s compassion. “If I needed you, would you come to me? Would you come to me for to ease my pain? If you needed me, I would come to you. I would swim the sea for to ease your pain,” the song goes.
It is said to be written about Van Zandt’s business partner and producer’s wife Anne Mittendorf Eggers, but he once revealed at a private concert that the song came to him in his sleep – in a flu-driven fever dream.
“I was living in Tennessee with Guy and Susanna Clark, and I was asleep, and I had a notepad by my mattress – I had a mattress on the floor,” Van Zandt recalled. “I was dreaming that I was a folk singer, and this was the song I played, and I happened to wake up, write it down, and went right back to sleep. The next morning, I woke up, went to the room with all the guitars, picked up a guitar, and played it through. It never has changed.”
The Texas songwriter believed that the sky was full of songs just waiting to be pulled in. In fact, he said that “Pancho and Lefty” – another song he wrote that was first covered by Harris and then later popularized by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson – came through the window of a seedy hotel room.
Nonetheless, “If I Needed You” is one of the most romantic songs Van Zandt has ever written. You can listen to Don Williams and Emmylou Harris’ version in the video below.
don williams, Emmy Lou Harris