About the song
If you are a fan of soul music, you probably know the song “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. It’s a classic tune that expresses the pain of losing someone you love. But do you know the history behind this song? How did Bill Withers come up with the idea? What does the famous “I know” repetition mean? And how did the song become a hit despite being a B-side? In this blog post, we will explore the story of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, one of the most iconic songs of all time.
Bill Withers was not a professional musician when he wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine”. He was 31 years old and working at a factory making bathrooms for 747s. He had a passion for music, but he didn’t have much experience in the industry. He had recorded some demos, but none of them had been successful. He was about to give up on his dream when he met Booker T. Jones, the leader of the famous soul band Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Jones liked Withers’ voice and songs, and offered to produce his debut album, Just As I Am.
One of the songs that Withers brought to Jones was “Ain’t No Sunshine”. He had written it after watching the 1962 movie Days of Wine and Roses, a drama about two alcoholics who fall in love and ruin their lives. Withers was moved by the story, and related it to his own experiences of missing someone who was not good for him. He said: “They were both alcoholics who were alternately weak and strong. It’s like going back for seconds on rat poison. Sometimes you miss things that weren’t particularly good for you. It’s just something that crossed my mind from watching that movie, and probably something else that happened in my life that I’m not aware of.”
The song was recorded in Los Angeles, with Jones arranging the strings and playing keyboards. The other musicians were Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass guitar, Al Jackson Jr. on drums and Stephen Stills on guitar. The recording session was quick and easy, except for one detail: the third verse. Withers had intended to write more lyrics instead of repeating the phrase “I know” 26 times, but he couldn’t think of anything. He decided to leave it as a placeholder until he came up with something better. However, Jones and the other musicians liked it as it was, and convinced him to keep it. Withers later explained: “I was this factory worker puttering around. So when they said to leave it like that, I left it.”
The song was released as a single in July 1971, but not as the main track. It was the B-side to another song called “Harlem”, which Withers thought was more catchy and commercial. However, the disc jockeys preferred “Ain’t No Sunshine”, and started playing it on the radio. The song became a breakthrough hit for Withers, reaching number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, number six on the R&B chart, and number two on the Adult Contemporary chart. It also won him his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1972. The song has been ranked as one of the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
“Ain’t No Sunshine” has been covered by many artists over the years, including Michael Jackson, Isaac Hayes, Sting, Eva Cassidy, Joe Cocker, Lenny Kravitz, Ed Sheeran and John Mayer. It has also been featured in many movies and TV shows, such as Notting Hill, Munich, American Idol and The Simpsons. The song has become a timeless expression of longing and loneliness that resonates with people across generations and cultures.