When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge | Top 40 Chart Performance, Story and Song Meaning

Chart Performance: Pop (#1 for 4 weeks) and (#1 for 2 weeks); 1966

Story Behind The Song By Ed Osborne

In 1965, 25-year-old hospital orderly Percy Sledge was singing with a local Alabama band called the Esquires. According to Percy, fueled by a few drinks and upset over a failed affair, he spontaneously adlibbed “Why did you leave me, baby?” one night at a club gig. Percy’s plaintive wail caught the ear of studio owner Quin Ivy, who suggested they rework the song. Another version has the band showing up at Quin’s studio where Percy sang his song. Whatever the case, several months later the tune had become When A Man Loves A Woman. Recorded around Christmastime, the finished master was certainly compelling, yet, both Percy and the horns were woefully out-of-tune. After auditioning the acetate of Woman, Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler suggested that Quin recut it, and he did. However, the released single featured the original off-key version! No one cared. Woman raced to #1 and was elected to the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999.

This content and all Song Meaning articles were created and written by Top 40 Contributing Editor Ed Osborne. © 2023 Ed Osborne. All Rights Reserved. In addition to these song meaning articles, Ed has written our “Year in Music 1960s-1990s” articles.

Produced by:

  • Marlin Greene
  • Quin Ivy

Lyrics Written by:

  • Calvin Lewis
  • Andrew Wright


  • The song “When A Man Loves A Woman” was awarded a million-selling Gold disc by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1966
  • Inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998
  • Sledge’s album, “Blue Night,” earned him a Grammy nomination, three decades after his nominations for “When A Man Loves A Woman” in 2023
  • “When A Man Loves A Woman” is listed as the 53rd greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone magazine