Bill Withers – Lean on Me

First Hit #1: July 18, 1972

At the outset, Lean on Me is deceptively simple. Just a little piano and some sentimental lyrics about supporting each other. It quickly gets kind of weird as it goes on – the clapping breakdowns are an interesting choice that keep it from getting too sappy – but that opening kind of says everything that needs to be said right away. It’s a basic, human song about basic, human needs – other people.

It’s to Withers’ credit that he doesn’t allow it to get too sentimental, a trap such a song could easily fall down. Whenever it seems too in danger of being sentimental he tends to throw in something that undercuts any seriousness that might have accumulated. Too maudlin? Toss in a fun little bit of clapping, keep people on their toes. It doesn’t always work – at time I just wanted it pared right down to Withers and his piano – but it also prevents things from getting cheesy, and while it’s not the most elegant method, it’s appreciated.

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