Editor’s Note: CMT Hot 20 Countdown takes a look back on 10 years of incredible music with Decade, a weekly segment that features a modern country classic that made its greatest impact between 2010 and 2019. This week, Lady Antebellum’s Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, and Hillary Scott talk about their 2010 single, “Need You Now.” CMT Hot 20 Countdown airs at 9/8c Saturday and Sunday mornings.
CMT: You wrote “Need You Now” with Josh Kear, and even though it’s a familiar theme — a desperate longing for someone — a lot of those songs can be sad or crazy. But you found the perfect balance between the two. Tell me about writing “Need You Now.”
Kelley: It almost didn’t happen. This was the first time we’d ever written with Josh Kear. We’d heard that he wrote “Before He Cheats” and we were like, “We got to get in the room with this guy.” He had an idea called “Young Love” and we wrote that song really fast. … I think he didn’t know if we were real writers or not, so he had pretty much a whole song almost ready to go.
It was a nice song and we wrote it so fast that I said, “Man, before you’re out of here, I’ve got this little idea on the guitar…” I’d just started picking up guitar. Dave showed me a few chords and I had that first couple lines, “Picture-perfect memories scattered all around the floor.” And I had “And I wonder if I ever cross your mind.”
I said, “I don’t know what to do.” I handed the guitar back to Dave, and Josh Kear went right into that chorus. You know, “Quarter after one…” (hums song) Then we were off to the races and we wrote that in probably an hour and a half or two hours. We didn’t really think anything of it. It was like, “That was nice.” It was a nice song.
Haywood: We didn’t know at the time what it was gonna be, or what it is gonna do. We loved it, but it sat by the wayside for a number of months until Charles brought it back up and said, “Remember that one day we wrote with Josh? Check out this song. Maybe we should record that.”
Kelley: We [worked with] two women at Capitol Records. Melissa Spellman and Autumn House, and what we would do is sit in a room with about 10 or 15 of the top dogs and play our stuff, or narrow it down. Our producer and our management, everybody. That was the last song we played and they said, “There’s something in there.”
I really have to give them a lot of credit. It really came together and once we got into the studio, we all looked at each other like, “This will be our favorite song that never makes it to radio.” Because there’s a lot of those tracks on records — your favorite song’s always like the last track and it’s really moody and you never think it’ll ever work on radio.
Scott: I’ll never forget. We recorded like seven songs and “Need You Now” was one of them. We played them for the A&R department at the label. They came to the studio and they asked us to play “Need You Now” again, which was a huge indicator, looking back in hindsight, that they really heard something. And [our producer] Paul Worley just… he “tackled a beast,” to quote him.
I mean there were so many different instruments and so many different parts that he dug around and picked out the pieces, from a production standpoint, that really brought out the intangibles of that song. But the lyric, it’s really vulnerable and it’s really honest and I really love that it was like the things that sometimes you only have the guts and the courage to say after you’ve had a glass of wine.
I’ve heard the song described as “an elegant booty call.” Have you guys ever heard that?
Kelley: We’ve definitely heard the booty call thing a lot. But I think it’s more than that. What I like about this song, when I look back and think about it, and maybe what we related to so much, is there’s still a little tinge of hope. … I’m not quite over this and I’m not giving up yet. We’re still calling each other late at night.
I think it’s such a relatable concept of that longing and that yearning, especially right after a breakup. For my first love, it took me a good two years to really completely close that door. … I do think that tinge of hope within the desperation makes it not so depressing.
The video keeps you guessing. Talk about how the concept of the video complements the lyrics.
Haywood: We had a lot of fun shooting that video. We shot all night long in Toronto. The story followed each of us with a love story. But you didn’t really understand that until the end of the video because there’s these moments where you don’t know if Charles is looking for Hillary and vice versa. The masquerade ball captures a little bit of the beauty and the mystery. There’s a lot of mystery in what’s going to be happening in the video.
Kelley: We wanted to also let the world know Hillary and I were not dating. We’re not together. I think that the first couple of years — I don’t know why because we did so many duets and stuff — it was like, “They must be together.” I was like, “No, no, no, we’re not together.”
Musically it starts out quietly, builds to a crescendo, then ends quietly. It sort of follows the arc of passion. Was that intentional?
Scott: Yeah, the way that I’ve always interpreted the song, even in performing the song, is it’s so personal. It’s almost like you’re reading your own diary to yourself in the very beginning. Then as the song builds, it’s like you do reach out, and you do call out to that person you love and miss.
And towards the end it’s like it gets back to that introspective place of really owning your feelings of, “This is just still how I feel.” I think it goes from being very, very internal, to then growing, through to obviously the dynamic of both perspectives that we bring to this duet. And then back to all you in your head.
Talk about what this song did for Lady Antebellum and how important this song is for you.
Scott: This song opened the door to the world for us, truly, for our music to take us around the globe. Tours in the UK and Europe and Australia and meeting fans and people coming to our shows. It changed everything. And from that night at the Grammys [where they won four awards], we still have a hard time fully processing that experience and are forever grateful.
I will say too, to this day, ten years later, “Need You Now” is the biggest moment in our show. And the fans, it’s like we all join in and all sing and it’s awesome and it’s beautiful. So we are so eternally grateful for what this song did for our career because the sustain of it has been just incredible.