If there is one song strongly identified with singer-actor Raymond Lauchengco, it is undoubtedly his debut single, “I Need You Back.” The heart-wrenching ballad, penned by Odette Quesada in 1982, will mark its illustrious, four-decade musical reign in 2022 and Lauchengco cannot be any prouder.
Although Lauchengco instantly fell in love with “I Need You Back” the minute he heard it, the “poor” song was relegated to Side B of his first single, much to his disappointment.
“Singles were the norm back then,” Lauchengco told ABS-CBN News. “The other song I recorded for my first 45 [single] was ‘For Your Love,’ an English adaptation of Julio Iglesias’ ‘Por Ella.’”
Lauchengco had been signed up by Vicor Records at that time. When he found out “I Need You Back” made it to Side B of the single, he knew the song would never become a hit. “Because radio stations only played Side A,” he explained.
Yet, the “unthinkable” happened for Lauchengco’s ditty, which he labelled as a “balladeer’s dream” early on. “One radio station went rogue and started to play Side B,” he recalled. “Every other station followed suit.”
He remembered being in a taxi cab on his way home late at night, coming from rehearsals at Repertory Philippines, when he first heard “I Need You Back” on the radio.
“It was so surreal being introduced by the DJ [disc jockey] and hearing myself sing, that I stuck my head out of the window of a moving taxi and started screaming,” Lauchengco recalled. “It’s me on the radio. ‘It’s me on the radio’ along a dark and empty EDSA.”
As he maintained, “The rest is history.” Or as he opted to say, “One heck of a great ride.”
No wonder, Lauchengco easily acknowledged 1982 as the year that changed his life in so many ways. And it all started with “I Need You Back,” a beautiful composition by Quesada.
“While I liked performing in theater productions, joining mainstream show business was never a part of my plans,” Lauchengco disclosed. “But things changed when the single, ‘I Need You Back’ became a hit and led to my first, self-titled long-playing album, [‘Raymond’], which turned gold.”
“And the special thing about ‘I Need You Back,’ aside from it being my first professional recording, was that it got incredible airplay as a standalone song, unlike my other hits like ‘Farewell,’ ‘Saan Darating ang Umaga,’ ‘Shadow of Time’ and ‘So It’s You,’ that were all part of movie soundtracks, making them more heavily promoted.”
For Lauchengco, “I Need You Back” was the song that defied the odds. “From being recorded by a newbie, to being relegated to Side B, to being played by one radio station and later catching on with a great majority of other stations, both FM and AM, and finally giving me a name as a singer,” he explained. “It's very rare for the stars to align the way they did in 1982 for that song.”
For a bit of trivia. Did you know they earlier wanted to change Lauchengco’s last name to something more Spanish-sounding? “They thought Lauchengco didn't suit me,” he said. “But I said I was very happy with the name I had.”
Lauchengco was only 17 when “I Need You Back” landed on his lap. “It was before I even had a girlfriend or had the faintest idea of how much a breakup hurts,” he unabashedly admitted. “So the best I could do at the time was to imagine how sad it felt when I recorded it.”
Yet, Lauchengco knew “I Need You Back” is not a happy song but a sentimental romantic ballad. “There is a lot of regret and pain in the lyrics,” he pointed out. “It is also a mature song. Certainly, more mature than I was when I recorded it.
“Maybe my voice managed to simulate the sadness, but my face and my disposition were another story. In the early days of singing ‘I Need You Back’ on TV, I always had a big smile on my face while performing.
“One time, a director came up to me after I had performed and asked me why I was smiling while singing such a sad song? So I told him the truth or my truth at least – that singing made me happy and seeing audiences show their appreciation made me even happier.
“How could I not smile? It wasn't about the song. It was about the people for whom I was singing.”
“I Need You Back” became one of the well-loved and best-selling ballads that will always be attached to Lauchengco’s name and successful singing career. Even after four decades, Lauchengco remains modest about the ballad’s timeless popularity.
“All I know is that people still ask me to sing it after all these years, and they cheer when they start to hear the opening music before I even start to sing,” he beamed. “I still get overwhelmed by that because it's such a unique privilege when people take a song you originally interpreted and make that song a part of the soundtrack of their lives.”
Lauchengco is proud about the “unique and elegant arrangement” by Danny Favis, aside, of course, from the ballad being a memorable composition by Quesada.
“Listen to the opening bars,” Lauchengco said. “The intro alone already grips your attention and tugs at your heart strings – a heavy but melodious baseline, strings [normally reserved for later parts of a song] and a piano glissando flourish – it was elegant. As far as I know, no other song at that time sounded like ‘I Need You Back.’ The song has aged well.
“And because the instrumentation was so tastefully minimal, it never sounded trendy. The arrangement still sounds fresh to my ears even after 39 years. More importantly, Odette's music and lyrics continue to touch people's hearts.”
Through the years, “I Need You Back” had versions by other noted artists, including Lea Salonga, Jed Madela, even Piolo Pascual. For Lauchengco, it was always a thrill to hear other artists reinterpret something that he did.
“I especially like how it gives a good song new life through someone else's voice,” he said.
“I Need You Back” eventually became one of Lauchengco’s biggest hits. He recorded other popular tunes after his debut single, yet he never regarded a particular song as his personal favorite.
“I've been blessed to interpret songs by great Filipino composers like Odette Quesada, Cecile Azarcon, Louie Ocampo and George Canseco, to mention a few,” Lauchengco said.
“Maybe when I was younger, I would favor one over the other, but now they've all become like my children, I love them all. Not only because they're good songs, but because they connect me to the hearts of all the people who have welcomed these songs into their lives.”
Whenever he thinks about how “I Need You Back” will mark its fourth decade next year, Lauchengco remains endlessly thankful.
“Maybe next year, I can sing ‘I Need You Back’ onstage again to an actual audience,” he surmised. “As part of a concert to thank everyone I’ve ever sung for, Vicor, Viva, Odette, as well as that one radio station that took a chance on playing Side B.”
Early last May, Lauchengco loving rendered “I Need You Back” on his Facebook page, without a microphone, minus the fancy sound needed by artists every time they performed. He simply wanted to let Quesada’s lyrics and melody do what they’ve always done – touch people’s hearts.
“‘I Need You Back’ is the song that changed by life,” Lauchengco proudly insisted. “And it still feels like a dream I never woke up from.”