“Just the Two of Us” by Grover Washington Jr. (ft. Bill Withers)
For starters, even though “Just the Two of Us” is technically considered a duet only the featured artist, Bill Withers, provides vocals. And that may be important to clarify to some readers, considering that it is romantic in nature.
Also, don’t be fooled by the relative of the chorus/refrain, because the lyrics of the verses aren’t what we would classify as elementary, as they are highly metaphorical. The chorus may be catchy and straightforward, i.e. the vocalist espousing that he and the addressee ‘can make it if they try’. But even therein, the underlying logic behind making such a statement within a romantic context is that this may well be a relationship with issues.
And in a roundabout way, that theory is verified in the first verse whereas Bill puts forth that he has pleasant thoughts alright, when he thinks of the addressee “sometime”. You know, not all the time – but “sometime”. So reading in between the lines, we are able to ascertain that this piece may be a bit more realistic than your usual love song.
The beginning of the second verse further buttresses this postulation, as Withers is basically admonishing the addressee not to harp on less than ideal aspects of the past. But all lyrics in the verse considered, he may also be speaking to past issues which predate their romance, i.e. she possessing a taboo to love.
Still, this lets the listener know that this isn’t a fairytale romance but rather one based in the real world, where disappointments exist and therefore must also be acknowledged. So the passage fundamentally concludes with the vocalist telling the addressee that even though things may not look perfect at the moment, it also isn’t a good idea to let this opportunity for love to pass them by.
The third verse seemingly drives the theory home that this may not be an established relationship per se but rather a case of the vocalist kickin’ it to the addressee, i.e. trying to convince her to take him on as a partner.
The way the situation reads is that she is not as keen on the idea as he is. And this is not because she doesn’t like him but rather due to a lack of faith in love, or something like that.
Another way of looking at it, as put forth above, is that the two of them have an established relationship with issues. In any event, that’s why Bill is like “we can make it if we try”, you know, just the two of them. Or phrased differently, the odds may well be against the pair, but if they remain strong in each other they can beat them. And honestly, that does sound like something a guy would perhaps say to a girl who is considering letting him go.
The Conclusion of “Just the Two of Us”
So conclusively, “Just the Two of Us” may have an underlying premise of the vocalist trying to establish or maintain a romance with the addressee. But whereas the verses harp on his loving feelings for her, such is not the actual thesis sentiment of the track. Rather that would be his belief that the two of them can take on the world as a couple, which is actually a recurring theme in love songs, though in this case perhaps put more effectively than most.
Facts about “Just the Two of Us”
The late Grover Washington Jr. (1943-1999) was actually an instrumentalist by profession, specializing in play of the saxophone. As such on this particular track, which is considered to be his signature song, featured artist Bill Withers (1938-2020) was enlisted to lay down the vocals.
“Just the Two of Us” marks Grover Washington Jr.’s first and only collaboration with Bill Withers. However, as an interesting side note, Washington Jr. was the first artist ever to actually cover one of Withers’ songs. And that would be the classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1971). The song in question was covered by Washington on his own debut album, 1972’s Inner City Blues.
“Just the Two of Us” was released via Elektra Records on 1 February 1980. It was a part of Grover Washington Jr.’s 11th album overall, 1980’s Winelight. Between 1972 and 2000, Grover had gotten around to dropping an impressive 25 albums (1 of them being posthumous).
And Winelight, which reached number 5 on the Billboard 200. It also reached number 2 on what is now the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. This album performed better than his entire catalogue of albums. And looking the playlist of the album, which only consists of six tracks in total, “Just the Two of Us” is really the only notable song amongst them.
Achievements of “Just the Two of Us”
Indeed this particular tune likely took care of Grover Washington Jr. until his sudden passing in 1999, considering the number of artists who have sampled or covered it.
This includes the likes of the following:
- Smif-n-Wessun (Wrekonize, 1995)
- Toshi Kubota (Just the Two of Us, 1996)
- Tupac Shakur (Happy Home, 1998)
- Eminem (Just the Two of Us, 1998)
And of course there is Will Smith’s 1998 cover, which is actually one of the most notable singles of Big Willie’s career.
This song has also been parodied by a couple of A list comedians – Bill Cosby in 1982 and Mike Myers’ fictional Dr. Evil in 1999.
More Interesting Facts
The writers of this song are William Salter, Ralph MacDonald (1944-2011) and Bill Withers. Withers made his own modifications after a good part of the song had already been written, with Salter being a regular collaborator of his and MacDonald, a percussionist primarily, being the one who connected Withers to Washington Jr., who up until that point had never met.
The Winelight version of this song is nearly seven and-a-half minutes in length. But the single version, i.e. the one played on the radio, is less than four minutes.
There are of course female background vocalists featured on the track also. And those participants would be Ullanda McCullough, Yvonne Lewis and Hilda Harris.
I loved the background information I was looking for about this song. Thank you.
Never having visited this site before, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of thought and won’t quibble with it. I was happy to see the wealth of background facts regarding the timeline and authorship of the song. Thanks go out to the author, Amanda London.