Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine

This was originally one of those B-side songs that became popular after disc jockeys turned the single over. The initial A-side was a song called Harlem. Withers has stated that the track was inspired by the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses… more specifically the characters played by Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon. “They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong. It’s like going back for seconds on rat poison. Sometimes you miss things that weren’t particularly good for you. It’s just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I’m not aware of.”

This song brings out the best of the early seventies. The band is Withers with the guitar and vocal, Booker T. Jones on keyboards, Stephen Stills on guitar, Jim Keltner on drums, and  Bobbye Hall on percussion…that’s a great lineup.

This was Withers’ first hit. After spending nine years in the US Navy, he had a job at a factory making parts for airplanes when he was introduced to Booker T. Jones from Booker T. & the MG’s. In 1970 he signed with the Hollywood independent Sussex Records and set about recording his first album.

Booker T was an elite session musician with Stax Records, where Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and many other soul legends recorded. He brought in some other top-notch musicians, including Stephen Stills on lead guitar, and produced this album for Withers, who was 32 when it was recorded. The “I know” parts were just filler until he wrote proper words but Booker T told him to leave that in there so Withers did. Booker T had seen Otis Redding doing the same thing with Dock Of The Bay by whistling. Redding didn’t have a chance to add any words because he would die in a plane crash on December 10, 1967.

Sax player Grover Washington became the first person to cover one of Withers’ songs when he did an instrumental version shortly after Withers released this. Later on, Washington and Withers teamed up to record Just The Two Of Us in 1981.

The song peaked at #3 on the Billboard 100 and #9 in Canada in 1971.

I ran across a metal band that covered this song. Black Label Society did this song in 2013 and made an unusual video for the song featuring anthropomorphic horses. Guitarist Zakk Wylde said that he got a kick out of reading the negative comments about the video from people who didn’t get the joke. Band members John DeServio and Zakk Wylde decided to cover it after seeing a 1974 episode of the TV show The Midnight Special, where Withers performed the song. They do a good version of it.

Bill Withers: It was an interesting thing because I’ve got all these guys that were already established, and I was working in the factory at the time. Graham Nash was sitting right in front of me, just offering his support. Stephen Stills was playing and there was Booker T. and Al Jackson and Donald Dunn – all of the MGs except Steve Cropper. They were all these people with all this experience and all these reputations, and I was this factory worker just sort of puttering around. So when their general feeling was, ‘Leave it like that,’ I left it like that.”

Graham Nash: “I was in the studio where we cut the first CSN record – it’s on the corner of Selma and Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles, I was taking a break, probably smoking a joint outside, and I heard this music coming from one of the other studios. I was curious, and I walked in. And there was this African American with a guitar, sitting on a chair, with his foot on a box. That was the rhythm he was creating.

He finished the song, and I said, ‘Who are you, man? That’s a fantastic song! What’s going on in your life?’ And he says, ‘Well, I’m kind of giving up. I can’t seem to break through. Nobody seems interested. Maybe I’ll just give up.’ And I said, ‘Wait a second. I don’t know who the f–k you are, but you cannot give up. What you have is an incredible gift. You should recognize that and get on with it.’ And he loved that.”

Ain’t No Sunshine

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

And I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know,
Hey, I oughtta leave young thing alone
But ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
Only darkness every day
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And this house just ain’t no home
Anytime she goes away
Anytime she goes away
Anytime she goes away
Anytime she goes away

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

50 thoughts on “Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine”

  1. I always like those stories when the B side becomes the hit. I think that happened to KISS with Detroit Rock City on the A side and Beth on the B Side and look what happened. Safe to say Gene and Paul were probably pissed at how well a Criss track did plus getting a Peoples Choice Award as well lol

    Liked by 3 people

      1. And it was an over reacation on Gene’s part completely… that is why Frehley and Criss are my two favorites…they aggravated the shit out of Gene and Paul and they knew it lol.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Yup agreed. I loved Ace in KISS (the first time around) and Pete as well. I’m glad to have caught em on the Dynasty Tour when I did as they had that whole mystique going on even though it was coming to end for the original 4 by 80 when Criss got the boot

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yea that was pretty cool that you got to see the originals in the original time… I saw them in 1984 and no offense to them…but I felt that I missed the show…and I did. I did get to see them in 99 or so with the originals and the show.

        Like

  2. Superb song, fits the definition of ‘classic’ to me. I never knew he had such talent with him in the studio though, that was interesting to find out. I also would have guessed , off the top of my head, it was a ’72 song but I guess it was a ’71, strengthening Paul’s case on my site today , about 1971.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. He was….he does get lost among those singer songwriters.
      Oh here is a video of what Bailey worked on…a music video for someone called “Cort”… here it is…I’m going to post it soon. Bailey was the DOP and colorist.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s awesome. I love the photography and the color scheme. It’s so warm. And I love the song. Kind of alt-psychedelic. The song is very warm and dreamy. I love the vibes the song gives off. The video is very complimentary. Well done all around.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for listening Pam… I really appreciate it. I’m going to go ahead and post it tomorrow. We tracked down Piggy…now we have to watch it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. That bridge is crazy – I’ve heard that story before how it was a placeholder but just stuck around. He kind of ran out of songs I think – his first two albums and the Carnegie live album are great, but his subsequent stuff isn’t as memorable that I’ve heard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea I’ve seen that before…I don’t know if they just run out of ideas or when money, fame, and travel enter the picture…things change and they are not as inspired.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Often pop/rock musicians do their best work in their 20s – I think when you hit your 30s and settle/have kids it can take some edge off. Jazz and classical are different – you kind of deepen your craft.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Michael jackson had the UK hit version, Bill had to wait for Lean On Me to get a hit which charted at the same time both my two fave records for a few weeks. I adore the MJ version its soaring, emotional and fab wailing guitar. When i heard the Bill original I loved it just as much a rare case of loving two versions equally!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know some songs like that….With A Little Help From My Friends…I love The Beatles version and Joe Cockers…but they are two different animals.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I prefer Joes version – there arent many Beatles covers that outshine the originals! Dear Prudence is another Siouxsie is the greatest version. And thats about that except for songs they gave away – mary hopkin, badfinger, cilla black….

        Liked by 1 person

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