Tune Tuesday – Ain’t No Sunshine

As summer quickly (and sadly) draws to a close, it got me to thinking about the one thing I’ll miss most about summer – sunshine. For those who live where the sun is always shining (or at least most of the time), you really cannot comprehend just how difficult the winter months in Michigan are. While I love Autumn, I miss the sunshine as we start to see it less and less.

The lack of sunshine that is on the horizon in the months ahead, made me think of this great R&B song from Bill Withers. It’s been covered by SO many people including Nancy Sinatra, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Wynonna Judd and many more, but Bill Wither’s version is the gold standard! It can be found on his 1971 album “Just As I Am.”

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Bill wrote the song after being inspired while watching the movie The Days of Wine and Roses with Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon. He said in an interview that the characters Remick and Lemmon played: “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 was his first hit. He was in the navy for 9 years and after getting out, he worked in a factory making parts for airplanes. It was during this time that he met Booker T. Jones (of Booker and the MG’s). Booker brought in some amazing musicians (Donald “Duck” Dunn, Stephen Stills, and himself) to play on the track. Jones also produced the album.

One of the most recognizable parts of the song is where he repeats the words “I know” over and over and over. That was not they way he intended the song to be. he had hoped to write a verse to go there. Withers explained in an interview: “I wasn’t going to do that, then Booker T. said, ‘No, leave it like that.’ I was going to write something there, but there was a general consensus in the studio. 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.”

(Keith story: The first time I played this record at WKSG in Detroit, I was in the bathroom peeing when the “I know” part started repeating. I was standing at the urinal listening to the song over the speaker and I thought “the record is skipping!” I was playing this off a cart (which meant that it was already recorded and there was no way the song was skipping, unless it was recorded that way!). I remember running out of the bathroom and through the halls anyway …. by the time I got to the studio, the song was continuing ….skip free!)

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The song won the Grammy for Best R&B song in 1972 and went all the way to #3 on the charts. While English teachers must cringe when they hear the improper grammar (“ain’t no” instead of “isn’t any”), it worked in this song (and also Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough).

“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

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