This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #304: Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers.
Sometimes, when we think of those folks who have achieved fame and fortune through music, we think that they must be special and privileged and have led a charmed life. They have to be living a different life from us to have done so well and climbed so high. But, sometimes, the truth of the matter is that our heroes rose from same common ranks as the rest of us. That is the case of Soul and R&B star, Bill Withers.
Bill Withers was born into a home that never saw much in the way of material possessions. It was a hardscrabble upbringing. So, not surprisingly, even though Withers enjoyed singing all throughout his teen years, his dreams were rooted in the practical and, consequently, when his high school years were coming to an end, he enlisted in the Armed Forces. A decade later, he returned to civilian life; not to pursue fame and fortune but, to work at a series of assembly-line jobs so that he could afford to feed and house himself. While working at Boeing, assembling the bathrooms on their shiny new 737s, he often sang as he worked. Sometimes, he sang classic Motown, Soul or Gospel songs but, sometimes he tried his hand at composing his own tunes and singing those. Well, you can imagine how it would have seemed to his co-workers to go to work each day and be treated to the glorious crooning of a man with a golden voice like Bill Withers. As he worked and as he sang, he honed the lyrics and polished his delivery. His colleagues encouraged him to record one of his original songs….a tune called, “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Withers made a rough demo and shopped it around. He was signed to a contract and produced an album called, “Just As I Am”. The cover photo was taken on the Boeing assembly line and, for awhile, even featured his Boeing metal lunch pail.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” is a break-up song, with a twist at the end. For most of the song, Withers laments the loss of his lady and how bleak his world has become without her. It is almost at the very end of the song that he reveals a twist which puts the whole story into a different perspective and adds depth to his song. “Ain’t No Sunshine” was just one of several major hits that Withers enjoyed. He, also, had a hit with “Lean on Me” (himself in the 1970s and with “Club Nouveau” in the 1990s) and “Just the Two of Us” (with Grover Washington Jr.). Withers ended up winning three Grammy Awards over the course of his career and was inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
No matter how famous Bill Withers became and how many accolades were bestowed upon him, he remained humble to his dying days. Before he passed away in 2020, he was asked in an interview, to choose one memento out of all he had and explain why that one thing held the most meaning. The one thing that he chose was a gold-plated toilet seat that he was given by Boeing in recognition for being an employee who had achieved success and brought good press to the company. He said that the toilet seat reminded him of his working class roots and how much of an honour it was to sing for those men and women who were working hard to earn an honest living on the line, just like he was. Withers always believed in the dignity of honest work and took that with him all through his rise to fame and fortune. Without further delay, here is Bill Withers with the gorgeous song, “Ain’t No Sunshine”. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, can be found here.
The link to the website for Bill Withers, can be found here.
Thanks, as always, to KEXP for supporting all manner of artists and bands. The link to their website can be found here.