David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 97: Bill Withers (Ain't No Sunshine)

August 1, 2020

Two joys come from this 365 artists in 365 songs series (necessary joys given the stress that comes from the commitment): one is described in posts like yesterday's Miracle Legion entry, where I simply sit back and let pour out various emotions about a song I know way too well; the second is in discovering information about a song I enjoy but have never explored. 

That is the case with Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," a song I have always loved, have on a various artists' compilation, and especially enjoy watching on an Old Grey Whistle Test DVD set I own (one of my favorite possessions). So I heard "Ain't No Sunshine" this week and was proceeded to be surprised by multiple bits of information I have learned once I decided to make it Withers' entry for this series (assuming I can trust the multiple online sources where this information was found):

1) The song comes from 1971.  I would have sworn it was more mid-1970's because I don't remember myself paying much attention to radio before I was 11 or 12 (I was 9 in 1971).  I have no memory of listening to songs on my little transistor radio. For you young 'uns, here's what I mean:

That may be my exact radio. In my mind, I only used it to listen to Pittsburgh Pirates' games ("Dad, Richie Zisk just hit a homer!") and WVU Mountaineer football games ("Dad, I can't quite understand what the fans are yelling?  Do what 'on Pitt'"?). However, maybe I was already fascinated by America's Top 40, and Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, uh, I mean Casey Kasem. I look at a list of the top hits from that year and they all sound fresh in my ear, not stale from classic radio.  Of course, a few of them might need to be rewritten: "Indian Reservation" -- Politically incorrect; "Me And Bobby McGee" -- Grammatically incorrect; "One Bad Apple" -- Aesthetically incorrect. 

As usual, I digress. In summation for point 1, I can't believe even at 9 years of age, I was already so connected to music.

2) The song is hardly the romantic love song I hear.  How can that be, you ask?  There ain't a whole lot of lines along with not a whole lot of sunshine. I mean, this is basically it:

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone/it's not warm when she's away/ain't no sunshine when she's gone/and she's always gone too long/anytime she goes away/

Wonder this time where she's gone/wonder if she's gone to stay/ain't no sunshine when she's gone/and this house just ain't no home/anytime she goes away."

About as simple a love lyric as we can get, right?  I pine for you when you aren't in my life. I can thoroughly dig that. Well, according to Withers, he wrote the song after watching the movie "Days of Wine and Roses," in which Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon play two alcoholics.  Withers implies that he was motivated because they go back to each other as if "going for seconds on rat poison. Sometimes you miss things that weren't particularly good for you."1

You kind of left out that important extra detail, Bill, in the lyrics. He might say the one line, "hey, I oughta leave young thing alone" near the end has him covered, but that might resonate more as part of a full verse "I oughta leave young thing alone/as there ain't no sunshine when she's here either/but the moonshine tricks my mind/anytime she comes back to stay."

3) Stephen Stills plays guitar.  O.k., I shouldn't be that surprised. Stills was a hot commodity and the style of C,S,N without the "Y" is closer to the style of "Ain't No Sunshine."

4) Withers' repeated "I know, I know" for the middle part of the song was ad-libbing . . . or, more accurately, stalling.  He was at a loss for lines, so he improvised for the moment and the band told him to stick with it.  How many times does he "know," by the way?  26.  Did he have to count in his head every time he performed the song? Talk about added stress to any performance anxiety he might have had.  He was a factory worker until this song helped make him big in music.  Did he perform this song later in life, going "20, 21, oh my that is the 4th pair of panties to be thrown on stage, oh crap, I lost count?"

5) He had been making toilet seats in that factory job.  Now I worry how many times I was sitting on his work while listening to his work through my crappy transistor radio.  Certainly makes me not want to look too hard into his other big hit, "Lean on Me."

"Ain't No Sunshine." Bill Withers. Just As I Am.  Sussex. 1971. Link here.

1Wiser, Carl (2 January 2004). "Bill Withers : Songwriter Interviews"songfacts.com

Day 96: Miracle Legion "The Backyard."

Day 98: Stone Temple Pilots "Interstate Love Song."

See complete list here.