Though it was also recorded in 1971 by Elvis Presley, four others recorded it in 1971 — Joan Baez for her album, Blessed Are... (July 1971), Bryan Ferry for his album, Another Time, Another Place (October 1974), Jerry Lee Lewis who did a bluesy version for his album "Touching Home" and country singer Sammi Smith, whose recording of the song is the most commercially successful and most well-known version. Smith's recording ranks among the most successful country singles of all time in terms of sales, popularity and radio airplay. Her recording topped the country singles chart, and was also a crossover hit, reaching number eight on the U.S. pop singles chart. Other American singers would record the song throughout the 1970s and early 1980s. The most successful version after Smith's was recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1972 (this version was later sampled extensively to create Huff and Puff's 1996 dance trackHelp me make it).
Background and writing[edit source | edit]Edit
Kristofferson said that he got the inspiration for the song from an Esquire magazine interview with Frank Sinatra. When asked what he believed in, Frank replied, "Booze, broads, or a bible...whatever helps me make it through the night."
Kristofferson wrote the song while staying long term as a struggling songwriter with Dottie West and her husband, Bill at their home on Shy's Hill Road in Nashville's Green Hills neighborhood. When he offered Dottie the song, she originally claimed it was "too suggestive" for her. Even though she would eventually record it before the year was out, several others had recorded and released it before her, some garnering great success with the song. Later on, West said that not recording it when it was originally offered to her was one of the greatest regrets of her career.
Content[edit source | edit]Edit
Kristofferson's original lyrics speak of a man's yearning for sexual intimacy, yet they were controversial in 1971 because they were sung by a woman: I don't care what's right or wrong, I don't try to understand / Let the devil take tomorrow, Lord tonight I need a friend.
Cover versions[edit source | edit]Edit
Cover versions of the song appeared in early 1970s albums by Lynn Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Olivia Newton-John, Andy Williams, Skeeter Davis, Tammy Wynette, and Dottie West, who was reportedly first offered the song. Ray Pricerecorded the song on his For The Good Times which was released slightly before Sammi Smith's single release. Johnny Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, have also covered this song in a duet. The recording is found on the 2006 compilation June Carter and Johnny Cash: Duets, released by Sony BMG. In this version, Johnny Cash inserts "June" before the line tonight I need a friend as a sign of affection for his wife.
Sammi Smith's recording would reach number-one on the U.S. country charts. On February 20, 1971, it reached number 8 on Billboard's U.S. pop singles chart, and also enjoyed success in Canada, Great Britain, and Germany. Adult-Contemporary stations took to the song, and it peaked at number 3 on Billboard's Easy Listening chart. In 1972, the Gladys Knight & the Pips' version reached number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 13 on the Hot Soul Singleschart. Smith's version also won a Grammy Award for Best Country Music Female performance.
Later in 1971, Joan Baez also recorded the song, including it on her Blessed Are... album. (In her 1987 memoir, Baez disclosed that she'd had an affair with Kristofferson around this same time.) Peggy Lee also recorded the song that year for her album Where Did They Go.
In 1974, John Holt covered the song on his album 1000 Volts of Holt. That year, his cut of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" from the album made it into the UK Top Ten.
Later in 1974, late child star/performer Lena Zavaroni covered it and she performed it live on numerous shows and it was taken from her Ma! album, she performed it again in 1989, despite this time singing it live at her own wedding. In 1976 Sergio Franchi recorded his tenor/crossover version on the 1976 DynaHouse album 20 Magnificent Songs.
In 1975, the French Canadian singer Claude Valade recorded a French version of the song Aide-moi à passer la nuit produced and distributed by London Deram Records. The song made its way to fame and was on the charts (3rd place) for more than six months. In 2007, it was recorded for a second time in French with Annie Blanchard (Musicor Records) and the song made the Top 20 (6th place) for 26 weeks. The French lyrics were written by the Canadian author-composer and singer Christine Charbonneau.
In 1990, country novelty musician Ray Stevens produced a comedic version of the song, not only playing the song to a more upbeat "hillbilly" bluegrass tempo but interspersing each line with mocking jokes of those lines (i.e., the first line, "Take the ribbon from your hair," is followed by a ripping sound followed by a woman yelling, Spike Jones-style). Another comedic version was recorded by novelty group Big Daddy, which was performed in the style, and with musical references to The Coasters. A parody was called "Help Me Make It Through the Yard" by Pinkard & Bowden, in which the lyrics are altered to tell about the plight of a man coming home drunk: Take the rosebush from my hair, / Lord, it has a lot of thorns, / What's the sprinkler doing on / At this hour of the morn? ...
In Austria, a well-known German language version of the song was recorded by STS. Its title in German was "Gö, Du Bleibst Heut Nacht Bei Mir". The song was also covered by UK singer Charlie Landsborough on his 2009 album 'Nothing Lasts Forever'.
The Spanish version was recorded in Colombia in 2001 by Marco T.
In 2013, American Idol contestant Kree Harrison covered this song during season 12 on "Songs They Wish They Had Written" week.
Chart performance[edit source | edit]Edit
Sammi Smith[edit source | edit]Edit
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||8|
|U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks||3|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||1|
|Canadian RPM Top Singles||4|
Willie Nelson[edit source | edit]Edit
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles||4|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||1|