How's this for a killer opening: Stephen Stills' first solo single would prove to be the most durable of his entire career - even if it wasn’t nearly as big a hit as you probably thought it was.
“Love the One You’re With” was the first single from his self-titled solo debut in 1970 - an album which was a little surprising, given that it’d been such a short time since he’d made the jump from Buffalo Springfield into Crosby, Stills, Nash & (sometimes) Young. Fortunately, Stills was prolific enough as a songwriter to be able to balance both the group and his own efforts.
The song was inspired by Billy Preston or, more specifically, by a phrase Preston was often heard to utter: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Lest you be concerned about any sort of copyright infringement, though, Stills made a point of going to Preston before moving forward with the song.
“I asked him if I could pinch this line he had, and he said, 'Sure,’” Stills revealed in the liner notes of the Crosby, Stills & Nash box set. “So I took the phrase and wrote a song around it. It's a good times song, just a bit of fun. My favorite part is the steel drums. I played them before a little bit but I just kept diddling around till I found the right notes."
With backing vocals by Stills’ bandmates David Crosby and Graham Nash as well as Rita Coolidge, Priscilla Jones, and John Sebastian, “Love the One You’re With” ultimately became a hit, but it wasn’t a straight-out-of-the-box smash. It debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 67, and although it's considered a classic rock radio staple now, it never got any higher than No. 14.
That said, “Love the One You’re With” was such a beloved song that it managed to spawn numerous cover versions over the years, from The Isley Brothers to Luther Vandross and even U.K. group Bucks Fizz.