The first recording of the song was by Mertis John's younger brother Little Willie John and was released by King Records.Willie John's single achieved No. 5 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1956and the B-side "Home at Last" reached No. 6 in the same chart. While using the AABA form and a harmonic layout typical for the R&B ballad,"Need Your Love So Bad" has been described as "A tightly wound and intense plea for love, [...] quite different from the usual R&B ballad fare".The songwriting credit has often been incorrectly attributed to Little Willie John.An example of this is the 1969 Fleetwood Mac album The Pious Bird of Good Omen, on which the original label gave the credit to Little Willie John.The performing rights organisation BMI credits the song to both John brothers.
Little Willie John's version of the song was used in the soundtrack to the film Wonder Boys in 2000. The song has also appeared on various compilation albums, such as The Very Best of Little Willie John, released in 2001 by Collectables Records as a CD.