About The Song

At 32, Bill Withers, originally from rural Slab Fork, West Virginia, was something of a latecomer to a world dominated by twentysomething performers. He had spent nine years in the US navy before taking a job installing lavatories on Boeing 747s.

In 1970 he signed with the Hollywood independent Sussex Records and set about recording his first album. On paper, he seemed an unlikely prospect. On vinyl, his strategy of “simple yet sophisticated” couldn’t fail. “Simple is memorable,” said Withers. “If something’s too complicated, you’re not going to walk around humming it to yourself because it’s too hard to remember. It’s very difficult to make things simple and understandable.”

His early demo bounced around various labels in the late Sixties, until it reached the ears of the Stax keyboard player and producer, Booker T Jones. Jones saw the potential and brought in some top-drawer musicians, including Al Jackson and Donald Dunn from his band, The MGs, plus the guitarist Stephen Stills. Together they cut what would become Withers’s debut, Just As I Am. The launch single was a pounding summer anthem, “Harlem”. It didn’t quite hit the hot spot, however, so DJs flipped the record and instead pushed the laidback soul of “Ain’t No Sunshine”.

Withers’s trademark hook is a repetitive ad-lib, “I know, I know, I know”, which enabled him to show off his breath control. “I wasn’t going to do that,” he said. “I was going to write something there.” But Jones told him to keep it in, and Withers felt he ought to comply. “They were all these people with all this experience and all these reputations, and I was this factory worker.” The song was a Billboard hit for Withers and made the UK charts in the hands of a teenage Michael Jackson. It won a Grammy for best R&B song in 1971, and lives on: in 1991 Paul McCartney released a live version and in 2001 it was sampled by the rapper DMX on “No Sunshine”.

See also  Bill Withers - Just The Two Of Us

Video

Lyric

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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