In 1972, Townes Van Zandt recorded “If I Needed You” on his album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Nine years later, Emmylou Harris enlisted the help of Don Williams for a duet on the song. It was then released as the first single off Harris’ album Cimarron.
While the song may never have been intended as a duet, Emmylou Harris’ gentle folk-country vocal and Williams’ smooth baritone blended beautifully, creating one of the most romantic pairings in the country catalog. Harris and Williams’ version went on No. 3 on the Billboard’s Hot Country Songs in the United States while it snagged the top spot in Canadian RPM Country tracks.
Covered most recently by Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires for a Don Williams tribute album, it has also been cut previously by Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, Doc Watson, and many others. In 2014 husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory also recorded a cover for their album Country Classics: A Tapestry of Our Musical Heritage. Though it was never released as a single and didn’t make its way onto the charts, it received some special recognition – Joey + Rory’s version of “If I Needed You” was nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance during the 2016 Grammy Awards.