In his Songfacts interview, Bill Withers talked about this song: "This was my second album, so I could afford to buy myself a little Wurlitzer electric piano. So 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.' So you 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?' At that point, it's between you and your actual feelings, you and your morals and what you're really like. You probably do more thinking about it after it's done."
Withers did not record his first song until he was 32 years old. He was in the US Navy for nine years, then worked at a factory making parts for airplanes. Says Withers: "Being from a rural, West Virginia setting, that kind of circumstance would be more accessible to me than it would be to a guy living in New York where people step over you if you're passed out on the sidewalk, or Los Angeles, where you could die on the side of the freeway and it would probably be eight days before anyone noticed you were dead. Coming from a place where people were a little more attentive to each other, less afraid, that would cue me to have those considerations. I think what we say is influenced by how we are, what's been our life experiences. Now, I notice young guys writing about shooting each other in the city and stuff like that, well I would never have said anything like that because it was not my experience, I'm not from a big city. I think circumstance dictates what people think."
This is often the first song children learn to play on the piano because they don't have to change fingers. You just put your fingers in one position and go up and down the keyboard.
This song has a very broad appeal, as people from just about any background can relate to the lyrics. It was a hit on a variety of formats and did well all over the US and throughout much of the world. Withers told us: "It's a rural song that translates across demographic lines. Who could argue with the fact that it would be nice to have somebody who really was that way? My experience was, there were people who were that way. They would help you out. Even in the rural South, there were people who would help you out even across racial lines. Somebody who would probably stand in a mob that might lynch you if you pissed them off, would help you out in another way."
Withers: "When I was in the Navy, I must have been about 18, 19 years old, and I was stationed in Pensacola, Florida. It was a holiday, I had this car that I was able to buy and I was driving up to West Virginia. As is the case with young people with cheap cars, the tires weren't that great, so one of my tires blew out on this rural Alabama road. This guy comes walking over the hill that looked like he was right out of the movie Deliverance. He says to me, 'Oh, you had a blowout.' Well, I didn't have a spare tire. This guy goes walking back across the hill, and I'm not too comfortable here because I know where I am. He comes back walking with a tire, and he actually helps me put the tire on the car. Just like the whole American experience, it's very complex and it has it's own little rules and stuff. I thought it was funny when everybody got worked up over Strom Thurmond having this daughter, and I thought, 'What else is new?' It depends on your socialization. My socialization was, it was very likely and very practical to expect a Lean On Me circumstance to exist. My experience was trying to adjust to a world where that circumstance was not the rule rather than the exception."
A dance version was a US #1 hit for Club Nouveau in 1987. It has also been covered by Tina Turner, Tom Jones and Al Green.
This was used as the title and theme song to a 1989 movie about an inner city high school starring Morgan Freeman. Based on a true story, it shows how principal Joe Clark used very brash and unorthodox teaching methods to help unify the troubled school.
Although he writes lyrics that are easy to understand, Withers describes himself as a "Lyrics Snob." He explains: "It's very difficult to make things simple and understandable. You ever sit down and have a conversation with somebody who took their formal education too seriously, and they're speaking and throwing in a bunch of words that you don't have a ready meaning for?
You're sitting there nodding because you don't want them to think you're stupid, but what you really think is, there's a lot of easier ways to say it, and you wonder if they even know what they're talking about or if they're just showing off. To me, the biggest challenge in the world is to take anything that's complicated and make it simple so it can be understood by the masses. Somebody said a long time ago that the world was designed by geniuses, but it's run by idiots.
I'm a stickler for saying something the simplest possible way with some elements of poetry. Simple is memorable. If something's too complicated, you're not going to walk around humming it to yourself because it's too hard to remember. The key is to make somebody not only remember it, but recall it over and over and over again. When you mention that some stuff I have written has lasted a long time, I think that's because it's re-accessible.
That's why the simpler forms of music, which are my favorites, like country music and the blues and stuff that states something in a way that everybody can understand and you remember it. There are lines that are so profound, like 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,' or Billy Joel's 'I love you just the way you are.' I heard this country song the other day that really stuck to my ribs, and it was just a simple phrase - 'And when the time comes for you to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.' You can't say that any better. When I say I'm a snob lyrically, that means, how clear can you make it and in how few words."
Mary J. Blige performed this on January 18, 2009 at a concert in Washington, DC to celebrate the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America.
Suggestion credit: Bertrand - Paris, France
Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, and Keith Urban performed a downbeat, emotional version of this song on the charity telethon, Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief, which was held on January 22, 2010.
When Withers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, Stevie Wonder (who gave the induction speech) performed this song with John Legend. Withers appeared midway through the song and joined in, marking his first high-profile performance since he left the industry in the '80s.
An instrumental section of this song was used in a 2017 Walmart commercial in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of Texas. "Those affected by Hurricane Harvey need someone to lean on," a title card reads, followed by an offer from Walmart to match donations to the Red Cross.
Steve Wonder opened the 2017 Hand In Hand Telethon with a performance of this song. The benefit was to assist victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Jbg from New York AreaThe song resonates for me in a lot of ways. In my area it charted in late summer 1972. That was literally the first time in years that I had friends in summer camp and school, after a very rough patch during academic 1971-2 and the first half of the summer.
Carolyn from Knoville, TnLove it!
Darren from Loves Park, IlThe song was also covered by Christian rap group DC TALK in 1994 on their "Free At Last" album. I was working in Christian radio at the time and DC TALK had so many remixes of the song that it took up the space on an entire CD. -- Darren Marlar (www.DarrenMarlar.com)
Larry from Coral Springs, FlHe did this song and it was very meaningful as if told by a friend..when you are in trouble or need a friend i am there for you. I did not like the way Club Novaeau did it with their beat..really ruined a beautiful song..they trashed it with the nonsense sound gonging and rapping bit.
Barry from Sauquoit, NyBill's career certainly started with a bang; three of the 1st four records he released made the Top Three. "AIN'T NO SUNSHINE" peaked at #3, then "GRANDMA'S HANDS" made it to #42, followed by "LEAN ON ME", it stayed at #1 for 3 weeks, and finally "USE ME" peaked at #2 & stayed there for two weeks...
Adrian from Johor Bahru, MalaysiaIt is one of the chart phenomena where the original and the remake by Club Nouveau both hit number one.
Kylie-marie Chavez from Whetstone, AzI love this song big time. it makes me think of my girlfriend and how i can cry on her shoulder and how much i love her..... we as a choir sang it too. well some of us did when we were doing group projects.
Alannah from Townsville, AustraliaThis song is awesome i have to do an assignment on it and its a literal & metphorical interpretation. This was also played at my mothers funeral. I love this song Bill
Oldpink from New Castle, InJust reading some of Bill Withers' comments, I know I would immediately like him if I met him. Of course, this song is fabulous.
John from Saugus, CaActually Bill Withers did not do the arrangement on "Lean on Me". It was arranged by Ray Jackson, a guy I ues to work with back in 1988 in So. Cali.
Look on the label, his name is there.
N.i. from Baltimore, MdInteresting structure: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Bridge, Chorus, Bridge, Verse, Outro. The Club Nouveau version uses a more conventional structure.
Michaela from Brooklyn, NyJust like James Taylor's song,'You got A Friend",this is a nice friedly song.
Aja from Amityville, Nyi really do like this song and I am going to sing this for an school play
Henry from Kingston, NyMe and my friends sing this all the time.
Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScThe phrase he was refering to was actually "When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hop you dance." It's from the song "I hope You Dance" by LeeAnn Womac. The songfact I'm refering to is in the last paragraph.
Andy from Tualatin, OrOne of the first songs i remember singing to (this and bohemian rhapsody were my favorites when i was 5) its number 205 on Rolling Stones List of the 500 greatest songs ever.
Shlomo from Brooklyn, NyIt's my favorite song! Every time I put on the record, it reminds me of how important friendship is.
Gabriella from New York City, NyI love this song. I play it when reading, when driving, when lonely, (makes me un-lonely, to know my angel, Danny is there for me to lean on him.)when i am not feeling up to beat, when i have a bad case of the blues, and just whenever i get a chance to put it on.This song is by far the best song i've ever heard.I dont hear it much on the radio, so just a thought for all te radio stations, please play this often, I mean seriously, if you really listen to the words, you'll see how much this song really means. I am a music teacher, and one day, i played this song to my students, and since then, they've been begging me to play it everyday! This song brings much joy to me, my heart and my soul. It rocks!
Gabriella from New York City, NyThis song always reminds me of my cousin, Danny. They played this when he died in 1994. I cry when I hear it, remembering what it means, and the special message that hits you everytime. I love this song. It is one of my favorites!
Marty from Chicago, IlIts crazy im a white boy from chicago and im getting into soul. Im starting to love. I think the message in this song is great. There is always somone there to help you with you problems.
Kathy from Jasper, Al I agree with both Kelly of Burlington, Vermont and Alischa of Lewistown, Pennsylvania above. This is a great song! I used to sing this song a lot. This was one of my daddy's favorites. He died in 1985 of a heart attack. It was also great to get Bill Withers's comments about this song!
Jonathan from Natchitoches, LaAppeared in Season 1 Episode 5 of Cold Case on CBS. The name of the episode is "The Runner."
Lane from Boca Raton, FlThis is a fantastic service! I am a music teacher, specializing in vocals, and I strongly believe in knowing the history of a song--its author, its author's purpose, how it was made, how it evolved, any collaborations. It enriches the way people sing a song and eventually how a song is received by an audience if that information is shared.
Thank you again Munacura Boca Raton, Florida
Kelly from Burlington, VtThis song has touched me because it showed me something. If you show kindness they will show you kindness back. Every time I hear this on a cd or something it just brings me so much joy! -Burlington, Vermont
Alischa from Lewistown, PaThis song is awsome, i never knew this song until i sung it in our choir. I like it, we use it for our warm up song. I think that this somg means alot to a friend.