Ain’t no sunshine when (he’s) gone

Bill Withers died a few days ago at the age of 81. If you don’t know who Withers is, you may know one or two of his songs. The one that is getting the most attention, and should is “Lean on me.” More on that later. The one that also should get attention is the soulful song of loss called “Ain’t no sunshine.”

The next lyric is “when she’s gone,” but we can use this title to remember Withers with the replacement word “he’s.” This song has been used in at least one movie to share the sense of loss. I also liked that Booker T. Jones produced it and Donald “Duck” Dunn played bass with Stephen Stills on guitar.* Here is the first stanza.

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.”

“Lean on me” deserves attention. It keeps coming back in new strains and served as the title song to a movie in the late 1980s. In my view, given its words and simple heartfelt melody and delivery, it is one of the finest pop songs every written. It is not a surprise that it is an anthem for healthcare workers today. Here is the first stanza and chorus.

Lean on me

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on.”

A song that is a little out of character with the first two is “Use me up.” In short, he knows he is being used by a girlfriend, but he is enjoying his time too much to change her poor behavior toward him. Here is the first stanza.

Use me up

“My friends feel it’s their appointed duty
They keep trying to tell me all you want to do is use me
But my answer yeah to all that use me stuff
Is I want to spread the news that if it feels this good getting used
Oh you just keep on using me until you use me up
Until you use me up.”

The final song I want to highlight was released as duet with Grover Washington, Jr. about ten years later. It is called “Just the two of us.” Here is the chorus.

Just the two of us

“Just the two of us
We can make it if we try
Just the two of us
Just the two of us
Building castles in the sky
Just the two of us
You and I.”

If you only remembered the first two songs, that would still paint Withers in a good light. He had voice that resonated. His songs also had a good pacing, so that the words could shine through. He will be missed.

* Note: Booker T and the MGs were the studio band on many Memphis R&B recordings. Donald “Duck” Dunn was a member. Think the band behind John Belushi and Dan Akyroid in “The Blues Brothers.” Stephen Stills, of course, was with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Buffalo Springfield.

Note: Here is a link to Jill’s post on Bill Withers which includes some song links.

♫ Bill Withers — A Tribute ♫


14 thoughts on “Ain’t no sunshine when (he’s) gone

  1. He has left us a great legacy and though he hasn’t done anything new for some 35 years, his music is still remembered and loved. Thanks for the memories … and for the link to my post!

  2. I read that he had died and it made me feel somewhat nostalgic remembering his music. He certainly left quite a legacy behind him. Thanks for providing the words… where would be without the songs “Ain’t no Sunshine” and “Lean on me”? Both classics !!


    • Thanks for stopping by. Well it is at least a great song to be stuck in your head. My wife and I laugh when we get silly songs stuck there. By the way, I was watching a rerun of “Notting Hill” with Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant and the song is featured as the seasons pass while they apart. Please come by again. Keith

      • Thanks Keith. I call a song that is stuck in one’s head an ‘earworm.’ I am not sure if you have heard that term, a Dutch Australian friend used it and I think it is appropriate.

      • Earworm is a good term. My friend Jill does a weekly music post and we tease each other about providing earworms for the week. Her link is above. Please do come by again. Keith

  3. A worthy tribute Keith.
    Such was the quality of Bill Withers’ songs they could be open to so many interpretations from soft and soulful to sheer raw blues.
    (Listen to Lynn Carey of Mama Lion (early to mid 1970s band) & her interpretation of ‘An’t No Sunshine’).
    He now ‘belongs to the Ages’

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