The third single from In the Lonely Hour, this was played for the first time during the March 25, 2014 episode of Zane Lowe's BBC Radio 1 show at 7:30 p.m. The song was released to iTunes on May 18th alongside remixes from Darkchild, FX and Wilfred Giroux.
In the Lonely Hour finds Smith tackling his unsuccessful love life. This track finds him singing about a person he fell for one night, but who doesn't return the same sentiment. He told Rolling Stone: "I deal with all the different aspects of loneliness."
Smith later admitted that the person he is singing about throughout this song and much of the In the Lonely Hour album is a man. He waited to come out as gay because he didn't want it to influence how listeners perceived his music. To his relief, there was very little reaction to his admission - it simply didn't matter to most people.
Smith wrote this with James Napier and William Phillips. "The song just flowed out of us so naturally," Smith told NME
, adding that it only took about 30 - 40 minutes to write.
Napier, also known as Jimmy Napes, co-wrote the Clean Bandit song "Rather Be
" and the Naughty Boy tune "La La La
," which features Smith.
Phillips is better known as "Tourist," a popular DJ/producer from Brighton. His EP Patterns
was released in 2014.
Smith wrote and recorded the original demo of this song with it's co-writer Jimmy Napes. At first, the song had just a verse and the chorus, and was under two minutes long. An executive at Smith's label Capitol Records named Nick Raphael arranged for Smith and Napes to work with veteran producer Steve Fitzmaurice, whose name shows up in the credits for albums by Seal, Rod Stewart and Tina Turner.
On June 20, 2013, Fitzmaurice joined the pair at Napes' studio, where they beefed up the song with an organ riff and made some changes to the structure. The next morning, Fitzmaurice made a quick demo mix of the song and left for a gig in India.
In November, Fitzmaurice was called back to the recording sessions, which were now taking place at RAK Studios in London. They recorded a new version of "Stay With Me" using a live band, but found themselves "chasing the demo," meaning they couldn't get it any better than what they had back in June. Fitzmaurice ended up mixing parts of the RAK recording (including the bass, which was played by Jodi Milliner) with pieces of the demo version. Fitzmaurice estimates that about 90% of the song came from the demo, however.
Smith is backed in the video by the London-based Enchorus gospel choir, but this was just for show - the choir didn't sing o the track.
Smith's own layered vocals provide the illusion of a choir in the song. "I layered my voice probably about 20 times. I stood in different parts around the entire room and I would layer my voice more and more and more, harmonizing, all that kind of stuff," he explained to NME.
Everything clicked when he heard the results, which were processed using a variety of panning and echo effects by co-producer Steve Fitzmaurice. "I remember crying because the whole song suddenly made sense," said Smith. "It was like that one touch just turned the song into... it just sounded anthemic."
Smith told 4Music the song "is my attempt at an anthem for the lonely. I wanted to write a song about those moments in the morning after a one night stand."
Smith took over an entire three and a half minute advertising break in a world broadcasting first, and transmitted a live music performance of this song to a sold-out crowd at London's Roundhouse. The live commercial break aired on Channel 4 at approximately 22.45 during Alan Carr: Chatty Man.
A remix by Darkchild featuring a vocal contribution by Mary J. Blige was released on June 2, 2014. "Working with Mary J. Blige is one of the biggest highlights of my career so far," said Smith. "I remember holding her album in my hands in the car when I was a young boy. To meet your idols is a magical thing, but to work with them is truly a dream come true."
"I'm so honored to have had the chance to work with Sam Smith," said Blige. "Sam's true soulful voice… is the first of this kind I have heard since Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson and all the great soulful male voices from the '80s. I'm completely blown away by his talent, soul and the sincerity."
This wasn't the first time that Smith and Blige have worked together. The pair were special guest performers during Disclosure's show at New York's Terminal 5 in January 2014. (Blige previously supplied guest vocals on Disclosure's "F For You
In the Lonely Hour sold 166,000 copies in its initial week in the US. This was more than any other debut album by a UK male artist in its first seven days since Soundscan started tracking sales in 1991.
Smith performed the song along with "Lay Me Down
" during his debut appearance on the March 29, 2014 episode of Saturday Night Live
. It was a breakthrough performance for Smith, but it almost didn't happen. "I tried to beg my managers and my team to not do SNL
because I thought it was way too early," he told Entertainment Weekly
The song runs just 2:52, which informed the approach for the entire album, whose 10 tracks total just 32:47.
By keeping the songs short, Smith and his producers were able to keep them simple and make his vocals the focal point.
Speaking with On Air with Ryan Seacrest's Tanya Rad, Smith discussed the rawness of the song. "I'm an emotional guy and I think unlike a lot of men in the industry and in music, I'm willing to show that emotional side," he said. "I don't have an bravado to put in front, and I'm just showing my raw self."
The drums on this song are the same ones recorded at the original demo session. Co-producer Jimmy Napes played them and put them on a loop. It was a bare-bones recording done with just one overhead microphone, but it ended up suiting the song perfectly, thanks to its imperfection.
"The loop wasn't quite right, it wasn't tied to a grid, and so the timing was slightly off," the other producer Steve Fitzmaurice told Sound on Sound. "The other instruments reacted to this, and altogether this created something magical that we couldn't get in any other way. Many people tried to put different drums on the track, and I even tried to correct the loop and fit it to a grid, and overdubbed drums to that. But when I listened to it a few days later, I immediately realized that it was no good and I took it all off again."
There is no guitar on this song - the instrumentation is just piano, bass, a drum loop, tambourine, organ and strings (which were overdubbed later).
This won Best Song at the 2014 MOBO Awards. Smith was also triumphant in the Best R&B/Soul Act, Best Male, Best Album categories at the ceremony, which celebrates Music of Black Origin.
This was USA Today's
Song of the Year for 2014. They said: "'Stay With Me's gospel-tinged piano and Smith's sweet, heart-tugging falsetto struck a chord of universal yearning, like the living embodiment of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' Same Love
. A chorus of voices joined him on the refrain, driving home his plea, as though their presence might make him feel less alone."
Following speculation that the piano melody resembles Tom Petty's 1989 single "I Won't Back Down
," Petty and co-writer Jeff Lynne were added to the publishing on the tune in January 2015. According to reports, Smith's attorneys agreed to pay Petty and Lynne a 12.5 percent royalty credit on the song.
Both Smith and Petty stated that the agreement was amicable, and no lawsuit was ever threatened. "All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen," said Petty. "Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam's people were very understanding."
This won for Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the 2015 Grammy Awards. Smith performed the song at the ceremony, where he also won for Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album. Mary J. Blige joined him on stage for the second verse and duetted with him for the rest of the performance.
When Smith collected his trophy for Record of the Year, he said, "I want to thank the man who this record is about, who I fell in love with last year. Thank you so much for breaking my heart, because you got me four Grammys."
William Phillips explained to Billboard magazine how he ended up co-penning this song. "I had been writing music as Tourist for about three years," he said. "Someone wanted to manage me, and it turned out the people who wanted to manage me also managed Sam. They were like, 'Before we manage you, why don't we do some sessions? We've got this guy Sam Smith and this guy Jimmy [Napes].'"
"So we sat in a session," Phillips continued. "I'd written with Jimmy a couple of times before I met Sam. Jimmy helped me write my third Tourist EP, and we really bonded over that. I got put in the studio with Sam and Jimmy - we didn't have any expectations. We just wanted to meet each other. Did ['Stay With Me'] in about half an hour."
Phillips was tinkling the ivories when the trio penned the song. "I've always played the piano," he told MTV News. "I taught myself how to play the piano and the piano is kind of what I do. That's what I did in that session; I had these three chords that I thought were nice. We didn't really sit down to write a specific sentiment. We just felt what was right."
In The Lonely Hour broke the record for the longest unbroken run of a debut album in the UK Top 10. The LP it gazumped was Emeli Sandé's first set, Our Version Of Events, which logged 66 consecutive weeks in the top tier.
This was named Song of the Year at the 2015 BMI Awards. The honor is given to the most-performed song of the previous year by UK or European writers in the BMI catalogue on US radio and television.