Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine

bill withers

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

You might know Bill Withers from his hit songs Lean on Me and Just the Two of Us (the latter sampled by The Fresh Prince in 1998). Those songs gave the listener a positive vibe, the feeling that everything will be OK. 1971’s hit single Ain’t No Sunshine delivers the exact opposite vibe – depression & hopelessness. The song appears on Withers’ debut album, Just As I Am and was also the b-side to the single Harlem. Disc jockeys preferred Ain’t No Sunshine and played it repeatedly in ’71 and ’72, sending it to #6 on the charts along with over 1 million units sold. The song features the most soul baring vocal performance of all time, the lyrics exploring the depths of the narrator’s despair since his woman left him. Check out these lyrics: “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone / Only darkness every day”. The middle section of the song features Withers’ saying “I know” 26 times in different vocal affectations. He originally had planned on adding in lyrics to that section, but all the musicians loved it the way it was. Musicians on the record? They included Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, CSNY), Donald “Duck” Dunn (Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Neil Young, Elvis Presley, many more), Booker T. Jones (Booker T. & the M.G.’s), Jim Keltner (John Lennon among many others), along with other accomplished session musicians. The band isn’t overbearing or showy – they lock into a groove that never overwhelms Bill Withers’ vocals. This is without a doubt, a perfect song.

Advertisements

John Denver – Take Me Home, Country Roads

John_Denver-_Take_Me_Home

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

When you move far away from where you were raised your mind tends to hold onto certain memories, images, and songs that remind you of the innocence of youth. As a kid my brother and I would sing John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads at the top of our lungs on our various family outings (at least 15 years after it initially was released). My brother ended up moving to New Zealand and I’m in Washington State – but the familiar folk-country acoustic guitar tune along with John Denver’s unique voice always bring me back to suburban Philadelphia and the mid 80’s. The song was written by Danoff and Nivert with Johnny Cash in mind. Once John Denver heard it, he persuaded the duo to give him the song instead (Johnny Cash & John Denver did an acoustic duet version a decade or so later that is outstanding). A bit of country, a bit of folk, a bit of pop – it made a slow crawl on the charts before finally peaking at #2 in mid 1971. The song is a source of pride for everyone that hails from West Virginia because of the lyrics, though the country road that inspired the lyrics is in the Maryland suburbs of Washington D.C. Isn’t returning to your roots the universal appeal of the song though? When I am on an airplane flying 3000 miles to Philadelphia, I always hear John Denver in my head singing this little ditty. Key lyrics:

I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me, the radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday, yesterday.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads.