When Kris Kristofferson emerged as the best young songwriter in Nashville, he didn’t just reshuffle the country music charts. As Barry Manilow might say, Kristofferson wrote the songs that made the whole world sing with future standards like 1970’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”
Kristofferson was down on his luck, living with Dottie West and her husband Bill in Nashville, when a Frank Sinatra quote caught his attention. When asked about his personal beliefs by Esquire magazine, Sinatra said he turns to, “Booze, broads or a Bible…whatever helps me make it through the night.” A sultry tale that suited the repertoires of his country singer contemporaries followed. Its inclusion on 1970 debut album Kristofferson inched its writer closer to lasting fame.
Cover versions soon bombarded the country music market. First came Ray Price’s interpretation for 1970’s For The Good Times — an album named for another Kristofferson original. The floodgates broke for a surefire country hit in 1971 when early outlaw Sammi Smith’s version reached the top of the charts. That same year, it was recorded by numerous other country singers (Lynn Anderson, Glen Campbell, Loretta Lynn, Jeannie C. Riley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Skeeter Davis), pop singers (Peggy Lee, Olivia Newton-John), American folk revivalists (Joan Baez) and crooners (Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck).
Its staying power lasted beyond a year or two of multi-genre cover songs. Some of the greatest country song interpreters (Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and even Ray Stevens) kept it relevant, as did reggae legend John Holt, comedic pop group Big Daddy, R&B standard-bearers Gladys Knight & The Pips and Joe Simon, country boy turned rock king Elvis Presley and even the pride of Canada, Bryan Adams. It also gained great success globally, with versions recorded in German (“Gö, Du Bleibst Heut Nacht Bei Mir”), Spanish and Estonian.
It helped Kristofferson’s ascent to household name status, as well. Once he fully transitioned from a behind-the-scenes writer to a megastar in his own right, it became a go-to duet for partners ranging from then-wife Rita Coolidge to Miss Piggy.