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 ♫

Saturday songs for reflection

In an effort to offer a diversion, I thought it might be fun to take a peek at songs written about Saturday. Here are five that offer a little variety.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
This song is more rock and roll than other Elton/ Taupin songs giving a nice change of pace.

Here is the chorus:
“Oh, don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Oh, Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Gonna set this dance alight
‘Cause Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright alright alright, ooh”

Saturday In The Park by Robert Lamm performed by Chicago
This is my favorite song about Saturday. Lamm captures the fun day at the park attitude. Here are the first two stanzas:

“Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream
Singing Italian songs
Everybody is another
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday”

Saturday Night by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter performed by Bay City Rollers
This is a fun song, but my least favorite on this short list. I do remember the song punctuating “The Midnight Special” hosted by Wolfman Jack. Here are the first two stanzas:

“S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!

Gonna keep on dancing
To the rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night
Dancin’ to the rhythm
In our heart and soul
On Saturday night, Saturday night.”

Another Saturday Night by Sam Cooke
A close second to Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” is Sam Cooke’s classic. It has been covered by Cat Stevens, Jimmy Buffett and others, but Cooke’s version is like velvet. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Another Saturday night
And I ain’t got nobody
I got some money ’cause I just got paid
Now, how I wish I had someone to talk to
I’m in an awful way
Let me tell you ’bout it, lookie here
I got in town a month ago
I seen a lotta girls since then
If I could meet ’em I could get ’em
But as yet I haven’t met ’em
That’s why I’m in the shape I’m in.”

Come Saturday Morning by Fred Karlin and Dory Previn performed by The Sandpipers
This is a nice little tune released in 1970. The Sandpipers give a harmonized 60’s feel to it, but it has been covered by Tony Bennett and Liza Minelli to name a few. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend
Well Saturday-spend ’til the end of the day-ay
Just I and my friend

We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles
And then we’ll move on
But we will remember
Long after Saturday’s gone.”

Let me know what you think. Did I miss one of your favorites? I toyed with adding Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” which starts out “It is a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, as the regular crowd shuffles in.” But, with Saturday not in the title, I left it out, except for this honorable mention.

Kenny lamented over Ruby and Lucille

The iconic singer Kenny Rogers passed away last week. Rogers had a brief career as a jazz musician, but is more famously known as a rock and roll, then country singer.

As I was thinking about his career, I focused on two powerful songs about imperfect men, who lament over their wives’ infidelity. The point is not to challenge why these women have done what they did. Rogers captures the anguish of these men.

The first is called “Ruby” and was released in 1969 as part of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. The second is the country song “Lucille,” released in 1977. Here are the initial lyrics to each.

“You’ve painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair
Ruby, are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The shadow on the wall tell me the sun is going down
Oh, Ruby, don’t take your love to town
It wasn’t me that started that old crazy Asian war
But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore
And yes, it’s true that I’m not the man I used to be
Oh Ruby, I still need some company
It’s hard to love a man whose legs are bent and paralyzed
And the wants and needs of a woman your age, really, I realize
But it won’t be long, I’ve heard them say, until I’m not around
Oh Ruby, don’t take your love to town.”

“In a bar in Toledo across from the depot
On a barstool, she took off her ring
I thought I’d get closer so I walked on over
I sat down and asked her name
When the drinks finally hit her she said ‘I’m no quitter
But I finally quit livin’ on dreams
I’m hungry for laughter and here ever after
I’m after whatever the other life brings’
In the mirror, I saw him and I closely watched him
I thought how he looked out of place
He came to the woman who sat there beside me
He had a strange look on his face
The big hands were calloused, he looked like a mountain
For a minute I thought I was dead
But he started shaking, his big heart was breaking
He turned to the woman and said
‘You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille
With four hungry children and a crop in the field
I’ve had some bad times, lived through some sad times
But this time your hurting won’t heal
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.”

I found these songs powerful for the anguish portrayed by a disabled Vietnam veteran who cannot satisfy his sexually starved wife, as well as the farmer who toils so hard, not realizing his wife has had enough of such a hard life.

Anguish is a heartfelt emotion. I am certain the women were anguished as well leading them to their choices. But, to me Rogers wanted to portray the anguish of these imperfect men. And, perhaps the anguish of the situations.

Great song lines from R&B

Rhythm and Blues (or R&B) has made a huge contribution to our musical richness, here in America and around the world. The sounds came out of Motown in Detroit, Staxx Records out of Memphis and Chess Records out of Chicago. The music was different, even though all classified as R&B.

The Motown sound had rhythm up front right out of the gate. Memphis was more soulful, driven by very evocative singers and a tremendous house band that would even release later instrumentals (think the band behind the Blues Brothers). Chess had bona fide stars like Etta James and Muddy Waters that led the way.

They built off of great jazz and blues out of places like New Orleans, Kansas City, Chicago and New York, to name only a few. It should not be lost that The Rolling Stones recorded a terrific album in Memphis and knew the folks at Chess.

What is discounted is the terrific song lyrics. These songs are remembered for more than terrific music. Some lyrics were merely catchy, but many had a resonance that left a indeliable foot print. The following are all from memory, so it is very likely I misstated a few.

“You make me feel brand new,” sang The Stylistics.
“When a man loves a woman…can’t keep his mind on nothing else,” sang Percy Sledge.
“Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home. And, when he died, all he left us was alone,” sang The Temptations.
“Neither one of us…neither one of us…wants to be the first to say goodbye,” sang Gladys Knight and the Pips.
“At last….,” sang Etta James, which lingers in the air.
“Baby, baby…where did I love go?” sang Diana Ross and The Supremes.
“War…what is it good for? Absolutely, nothing. Say it again,” sang Edwin Starr.
“Mother, mother…why are so many of you dying?” sang Marvin Gaye.
“Sugarpie, honeybunch. You know that I love you. I can’t help myself, I love you and nobody else,” sang The Four Tops.
“Sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. Sitting on the dock of the bay… wasting time,” sang Otis Redding.
“Don’t be fooled by my glad expression, if it’s giving you the wrong impression,” sang Smokey Robinson.
“I heard it through the grapevine, that no longer would you be mine,” sang Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye in separate versions of the same song.

These songs are like little time capsules. Please add to the list with some of your favorites. I just stuck my toe in the water above. I would love to hear from you.

Tuesday afternoon

The Moody Blues asked us to stop and smell the roses, as life is too short. Here are the first two stanzas of their poignant song “Tuesday afternoon.”

“Tuesday afternoon
I’m just beginning to see
Now I’m on my way
It doesn’t matter to me
Chasing the clouds away

Something calls to me
The trees are drawing me near
I’ve got to find out why
Those gentle voices I hear
Explain it all with a sigh”

We seem to have many clouds gathering around us. Yes, we must see the clouds and act accordingly. No question. But, we do have lives to lead. So, be smart and still do things to enjoy our world. Walks in the park or woods will see less contamination from the dreaded C word. If you encounter other human beings – give them some space, but still meet and greet. You need not shake a hand to have a conversation.

Ring up a friend or loved one and say “Hi, I was thinking about you.” The best line from the movie “Yesterday,” about a young man who wakes up from an accident and is the only person to remember The Beatles, comes near the end. A profound older man advises the young man that life is simple, “when you find the girl you love, tell her that you love her.”

This piece of advice can be modified to fit most any relationship. Tell you mom (or dad) that you love her (him). Tell your friend that you were thinking of her or him. The Moody Blues should be remembered for more than just their wonderful orchestrations. Their words had meaning. So, start “chasing the clouds away.”

I realize fully this C word has caused illnesses and even death. I realize the social distancing has caused some to lose jobs or get furloughed. Reach out to those folks, in particular. They may need a reference, a helping hand, some groceries, some cash. But, a kind word or reach out will help as a start.

A couple of musical memories

As I search my thoughts for writing inspiration, a Carole King song leaped off the TV screen in a show we were watching. We saw the traveling Broadway show “Beautiful” about King’s life.

King is an American treasure and has written or co-written some of our most popular songs. Then, she realized she could sing them as well. “Tapestry” was her first album and for the longest while was the best selling album ever.

It reminded me of another prolific songwriter named James Taylor. He sang King’s song “You’ve got a friend,” at her invitation. She would later record it and include it on “Tapestry.” We saw Taylor two times and it was a treat. Yet, seeing the two of them perform together on PBS was even more special.

Connecting one more dot, Taylor dated another singer-songwriter named Carly Simon. Of course, she has had a wonderful career building off songs like “You’re so vain” and “Anticipation,” which sold more than ketchup.

Three artists with a connection more than music. Three people who have given us their hearts and souls in their music. There are other connections like this to explore.

Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell lived together, which inspired Nash to write “Our House.” Mitchell wrote the pivotal song about “Woodstock” also sung by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Stephen Stills dated Judy Collins, who he wrote about in “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” another CSNY song. And, to round it all out, Collins had a hit with Mitchell’s “Both sides now.”

Connections. Inspiration. Collaboration. Memorable music.

Why is anger news?

Today, I read a headline that the president is angry the stock market is falling. OK, so he is angry. I am not too thrilled about it, but we have had a bull market for close to eleven years.

But, why is anger newsworthy? In a world of imperfect people, people are going to be angry at someone or some thing. We see twitter wars between various personalities over issues that are not that important. The angry president causes much of his own mess by tweeting about things that do not matter. He is mad that a South Korean film won the Oscar. OK.

People are mad at the Queen of England for agreeing that her grandson and his new wife cannot use certain royal privileges. Well, they did not want to be treated as royals or perform royal duties, so this is what that means. The Queen is just saying you can’t have it both ways.

And, we have talk show hosts who basically peddle gossip. Their shows focus on feuding celebrities, which concerns me even less than what the president is mad about. So, some star is mad at another and the other is returning the favor. OK.

There are so many things to be concerned about, we should be very unconcerned over who is angry at whom. Billy Joel sang about an “Angry young man.” In short, he became an angry old man. Think about that one.
________________

Here are two stanzas from an “Angry young man,” a transition stanza and one where the angry old man is introduced:

“I passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage
I found that just surviving was a noble fight
I once believed in causes too
I had my pointless point of view
And life went on no matter who was wrong or right

And there’s always a place for the angry young man
With his fist in the air and his head in the sand
And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes
So he can’t understand why his heart always breaks
But his honor is pure and his courage as well
And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell
And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man”