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.

Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23

StrawberryLetter

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.

Sad to say, but I first became aware of Shuggie Otis with the 2001 David Byrne assisted reissue of 1974’s Inspiration Information. The CD cover hinted at some hip world of unheard acid jazz soul power and the music followed through on that promise (though the 2001 reissue cover wasn’t the original sleeve). As much as I loved the entire record, the track that I had instantly had to play over (and over) again was “Strawberry Letter 23”. The song was originally a part of Shuggie’s 1971 record, Freedom Flightbut was tacked onto the reissue as a “bonus track”. The song effortlessly encapsulates exhilaration, melancholy, and longing all within the span of its 4 minute run-time. The music breezes along on a ridiculously catchy groove making the moment when everything fades away with Shuggie singing “If you arrive and don’t see me / I’m going to be with my baby / I am free, flying in her arms / Over the sea” resonate all the more deeply. The track has been covered by quite a few acts (notably, The Brothers Johnson version hit #5 and is the version most people have heard). It was also featured in the Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown as well as the hit TV show Six Feet Under. This is one of those songs that gets under your skin the 1st time you hear it and never wears out its welcome. The lyrics quoted just above hint at the way the words effortlessly flow in poetic fashion. Truly, a masterpiece in words & music.