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Universally popular songlines: We say a phrase, eyes flicker recognition and – boom! – we’re sharing the whole soundtrack. Like “Don’t worry, be happy,” by Bobby McFerrin, from 1988. Or “Lean on me,” by Bill Withers, from 1972. Songfacts.com asked Withers about his signature song, and this is what he said:

“A lot of time you go back and fill in the blanks. 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. That’s often the first song that children learn to play because they don’t have to change fingers – you just put your fingers in one position and go up and down the keyboard. In the course of doing the music, that phrase crossed my mind, so then you go back and say, “OK, I like the way this 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?” Then 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.

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 8 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 than somebody from a different place. 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 that was not my experience, so 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.”

From the Songfacts interview with Bill Withers

Lean on Me – Bill Withers (1971)

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow

But if we are wise
We know that there’s
Always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things
You need to borrow

For no one can fill
Those of your needs
That you won’t let show

You just call on me brother
When you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem
That you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

You just call on me brother
When you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem
That you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on

If there is a load
You have to bear
That you can’t carry

I’m right up the road
I’ll share your load
If you just call me

song week :-) learning english with songwriters