“Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers
Interestingly, Bill Withers was inspired to write “Ain’t No Sunshine” after watching a 1962 movie entitled Days of Wine and Roses, which starred two A listers of the day, Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon.
The said film sports a romantic undertone but is actually more along the lines of anti-alcohol propaganda. But either way, it must have been the romantic aspect of the film which really struck Bill, despite him implying that the addressee of this song may even be an addictive substance, like alcohol. For as presented, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, despite being devoid of any overt romantic references, definitely reads as if ol’ Bill is singing to a straight-up ex.
And this is one of those situations where what can be considered an everyday occurrence, “sunshine”, takes on a symbolic meaning. And the most simple way of defining the rays of the sun, as used herein, is as being synonymous with happiness.
Key Sentiment of “Ain’t No Sunshine”
So with that understanding in mind, if you wanted to simplify the primary sentiment of this song, it can be translated as ‘ain’t no happiness when she’s gone’. Of course this is a statement being relayed from the personal perspective of the vocalist. And again, said “she”, we would have to conclude, is his significant other.
Moreover, “she’s gone” someplace where he doesn’t even know where she is. And in the selfsame line in which the vocalist makes that assertion, Withers also implies that this isn’t the first time she has mysteriously bounced.
So even though this piece isn’t wordy, there’s still a bit that can be ascertained via its unpretentious delivery. For instance, despite Bill not revealing why she’s gone, all lyrics considered on top of the tone of the audio definitely makes it feel like he’s the victim of an unreciprocated love.
But at the end of the day, it’s not about why she left. In fact truth be told, the vocalist never goes as far as to actually state that he wants her to come back. Indeed near the conclusion of the third verse, he even puts forth that he “ought to leave the young thing alone”.
But trying to adopt a mature disposition to the matter at hand doesn’t minimize the associated heartbreak. Or put more simply, Bill gets really bent out of shape “anytime she goes away”, with the present being one of those moments. And in this particular case, making matters worse on his part is a lack of belief that she will actually return.
Bill Withers (1938-2020) was a musician who we can say was so successful that he retired from the music industry after less than 20 years – “eight years by his own count” – of professional activity. Amongst his classics is the soul staple Grandma’s Hands which, like Ain’t No Sunshine, came out as part of Withers’ debut album Just as I Am in 1971.
When was “Ain’t No Sunshine” released?
Sussex Records officially released this during May of 1971.
Who are the writers and producers?
It was written by Bill Withers (1938-2020) and produced by Booker T. Jones who, like Bill Withers, went on to be an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The inspiration behind penning of this tune came to Bill Withers via a 1962 Hollywood film entitled Days of Wine and Roses, which is actually about alcoholism.
This features perhaps one of the earliest examples of an entire verse being taken up by a singular (two-word) phrase, that being “I know”. But such is not how Withers originally intended the piece, with these mutterings being purposed as placeholders. But he was encouraged by Booker T. Jones to “leave it like that”.
Bill Withers actually got into the music game relatively late in life, with his aforementioned debut album being released when he was already in his early 30s. In fact at the time this song came out, Wither had a steady day job which he retained even after becoming a music star.
More Facts about “Ain’t No Sunshine”
Ain’t No Sunshine is the third song in Bill Withers singles’ discography. His prior two entries, Three Night and a Morning (1967) and Harlem (1971), were not hits. However Ain’t No Sunshine, which reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and achieved platinum (by today’s standards) certification via the RIAA, firmly set him on the road to stardom.
This track also took home the 1972 Grammy Award in the category of Best R&B Song.
Moreover, as with 1972’s Lean on Me, Ain’t No Sunshine is another tune by Withers that has been placed on Rolling Stones’ “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
It wasn’t uncommon back in those days for musicians to have their songs covered and officially released by other artists in the same year that the original came out. Therefore, the late Michael Jackson’s rendition of Ain’t No Sunshine also came out in 1971 as part of the King of Pop’s own debut (solo) album, Go to Be There, which was released when he was but 13 years old.
Michael’s rendition of this tune was a moderate hit. And other artists who have covered this song to chart success include Poland’s Budka Suflera (1974), Australia’s Rockmelons (1991) and South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo (1991).
Other notable covers of Ain’t No Sunshine came to us via Grover Washington Jr. in 1972 (i.e. the first cover of a Bill Withers’ song) and Stevie Wonder in 2015. The latter was part of Bill Withers’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer” heavily samples this song. To be honest, the use of “Ain’t No Sunshine” in the song in question is what made it a success.