Every #1 Country Single of the Eighties: Emmylou Harris and Don Williams, “If I Needed You”

“If I Needed You”

Emmylou Harris and Don Williams

Written by Townes Van Zandt

Radio & Records

#1 (1 week)

November 20, 1981

By the early eighties, the good taste standards set by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams were the highest to be found within the country music community.  So it isn’t surprising at all that when Harris and Williams teamed up, they did so with an excellent composition from Townes Van Zandt that they were able to make their own.

It’s easy to imagine longtime country radio listeners thinking that “If I Needed You” had been inspired by the “Would You Lay With Me (in a Field of Stone),” which was written by David Allan Coe and became a No. 1 single for a young Tanya Tucker a few years earlier. 

But the influence flowed in the opposite direction: Coe heard Van Zandt’s song and was so moved by it, he asked for permission to adapt it into his own song, which he did without Van Zandt getting a writing credit.

There’s an eloquent simplicity to “If I Needed You” that recalls the work of the Carter Family.  Harris and Williams meld their signature sounds beautifully, as their distinctive solo turns on the verses transition into harmonies that recall a different kind of mountain music than the one Alabama sang about.

It feels almost reflexive to give this a perfect grade, but they’re both critical favorites for a reason.   We’ll see both Harris and Williams on top again with solo records.

“If I Needed You” gets an A.

Every No. 1 Single of the Eighties

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  1. Though alot of ppl consider Cimarron one of Emmys least cohesive albums it has always been a favorite of mine. I think it’s been given a bad reputation bc it was composed of leftover songs from prior recording sessions. But I find all the songs impeccable and a sound throughout that is more country and cohesive than most of her early 70s albums. All the singles from it gets a solid A for me!

  2. Such a wonderful pairing of voices and vocal dynamics.

    Quiet country music at its best and most poetic.

    “And you will miss sunrise if you close your eyes/And that would break my heart in two.”

  3. Great singers paired with a great song equals a great performance. Love both Don and Emmylou’s contributions to country music and have a majority of their albums.

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