Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who Is He, and What Is He to You?

I remember that my Dad had a copy of a Bill Withers LP when I was a kid. I don't remember what was on it, other than Lovely Day. I had an interest in that song, because it had been re-released, with some horrible jaunty "updated" backing track (never a good idea). That was the only song to which I listened on the album.

Likewise, when Will Smith's Just the Two of Us came out, I remembered it was a Bill Withers song, and that focused my attention, briefly, on that song.

But then the ER adverts happened. Channel 4 back home decided to promote a new season of ER in which Carol and Doug were clearly going to get back together by having a 2 minute advert that featured lots of longing glances and heated moments with Ain't No Sunshine as the backing. And so, when I soon thereafter saw a copy of Bill Withers' greatest hits for about four quid in an hmv sale, that's what I bought. I've not really looked back.

The first two songs are, indeed, the aforementioned Lovely Day and Just the Two of Us, and yet I'm not exaggerating by saying that these famous songs are my two least favourite of the album. Right after JTTOU comes Use Me, which is one of the best songs about loving what's bad for you, because it feels so good. It's joyful, despite the premise that Withers knows that nothing right other than the here and now can come of this. Kissing My Love is another exuberant expression of the joys of someone who blots out the rest of the world. Harlem somehow completely evokes the 70s and the neighbourhood, painting a picture more realistic, it seems to me, than that often portrayed, particularly by those who were terrified of above 100th street for so long.

And then there are my two favourites: Ain't No Sunshine, and the title of this post. That song is just full of menace, despair and longing, in the way that (probably my favourite song of all time) Heard It Through the Grapevine is. And Ain't No Sunshine is just perfect: short, sweet, full of love, and yet stripped down. I think that's one of the things I love about Withers - no swooping vocals, just pure and sweet baritone, that roughs up with emotion at times, but it's all so strangely demonstrative through its relative restraint. And yet, it appears, he was a pretty angry young man, and is still fired up about lack of respect and his life.

And, of course, without Bill, possibly my favourite joke of all time would not exist (but I can't write it down due to typographical/grammatical aversions to conveying it on paper; aurally is the only way).

No comments: