Song Lyric Sunday – Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone

Some generous prompts have been provided to us this week for Song Lyric Sunday, courtesy of one of our fellow bloggers, Angie, from King Ben’s Grandma. She has given us a chance to find songs with Heavenly Bodies, Planets, Moon, Sun and Stars in the title or lyrics. There are so many songs to choose from I wonder if we will have any duplicates this week. I can’t wait to see what everyone picks.

I have chosen a song that I first shared in January 2019. It’s a Bill Withers classic, Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone. At that time I did not offer any backstory for the song or Bill Withers, so this is a good time to do it. It’s a great, moody song and the only thing I didn’t like about it is that it’s too short!

At the end of this post, I have included the video from Wither’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, where Stevie Wonder sang this song and Bill Withers ’assisted’.

Bill Withers died in 2020 at age 81.

The Song

In a Songfacts interview with Bill Withers, he explained how this song came about: “I was watching a movie called Days Of Wine And Roses (1962) with Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon. 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.”

This was Withers’ first hit. After spending nine years in the US Navy, he had a job at a factory making parts for airplanes when he was introduced to Booker T. Jones from Booker T. & the MG’s. Booker was an elite session musician with Stax Records, where Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and many other soul legends recorded. He brought in some other top-notch musicians, including Stephen Stills on lead guitar, and produced this album for Withers, who was 32 when it was recorded.

This was released as the B-side to another song called “Harlem.” Disc jockeys played this as the single instead and it became a hit.

All the instruments on this track are acoustic. Personnel are:

Withers: guitar, vocal
Booker T. Jones: keyboards
Stephen Stills: guitar
Jim Keltner: drums
Bobbye Hall: percussion

The part where Withers repeats “I know, I know,” has become a very recognizable piece of the song, but it wasn’t what he had in mind. Withers told Songfacts: “I wasn’t going to do that, then Booker T. said, ‘No, leave it like that.’ I was going to write something there, but there was a general consensus in the studio. It was an interesting thing because I’ve got all these guys that were already established, and I was working in the factory at the time. Graham Nash was sitting right in front of me, just offering his support. Stephen Stills was playing and there was Booker T. and Al Jackson and Donald Dunn – all of the MGs except Steve Cropper. They were all these people with all this experience and all these reputations, and I was this factory worker just sort of puttering around. So when their general feeling was, ‘Leave it like that,’ I left it like that.”

The MGs were the backup band for Otis Redding when he recorded “Dock Of The Bay” in 1967. The famous whistling in the third verse of that song was something Redding did to fill time until he could fill it in with some words. He never had the chance because he died in a plane crash three days later. The whistling stayed, just like Withers’ verse of “I knows.”

On its first release, this song did not chart in the UK, but Michael Jackson’s cover hit #8 there in 1972. Withers’ original version eventually made its first entry into the UK singles chart in May 2009 after being performed on Britain’s Got Talent by contestant Shaun Smith.

Withers performed this on an episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test, a British TV show that ran from 1971-1987 and featured a variety of musical guests. In the ’70s, the show was shot in a small studio with no audience, which resulted in more relaxed performances where the artists could concentrate on their music. Withers’ appearance is considered a classic from the show, and was included in a DVD compilation released in 2001.

Won the Grammy for Best R&B Song in 1972.

“Ain’t no” isn’t good grammar, but in the context of a song it sounds a lot better than “there isn’t any.” Motown acts often used it, notably on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got).”

This was used in the movies Girls Town (1996), Notting Hill (1999), Old School (2003) and Munich (2005). TV shows to use the song include Monk (2005), CSI: NY (2009) and Scandal (2013).

Besides Michael Jackson, this has been covered by many artists in a wide range of styles. Paul McCartney, Isaac Hayes, Lionel Hampton, Prince, Sting, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones and Lighthouse Family have all recorded it. It was also interpolated by rapper DMX for his 2001 song “No Sunshine.”

Sax player Grover Washington became the first person to cover one of Withers’ songs when he did an instrumental version shortly after Withers released his. In 1981, Washington and Withers teamed up to record “Just The Two Of Us.”

There is no introduction on this song, as the vocals come in right away. This was thought of as bad for marketing purposes, as it meant disc jockeys couldn’t talk it up, but it gave the song a more interesting structure. Withers’ label Sussex Records gave him plenty of artistic freedom, which he lost when Sussex folded and he moved to Columbia. In the 2009 documentary Still Bill, Withers explains, “If nobody throws all their rules at you, you might make a song with no introduction.”

The metal band Black Label Society recorded this song and issued it as a single in 2013. Band members John DeServio and Zakk Wylde decided to cover it after seeing a 1974 episode of the TV show The Midnight Special, where Withers performed the song.

Black Label Society made an unusual video for the song featuring anthropomorphic horses. In our interview with Zakk Wylde, he said that he got a kick out of reading the negative comments about the video from folks who didn’t get the joke, comparing the hostility to what his professional wrestler friends get when they turn heel.

Stevie Wonder inducted Bill Withers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. At the ceremony, Wonder performed this song with Withers sitting next to him on stage. Withers decided not to perform at the ceremony, although he appeared midway through Wonder and John Legend’s performance of “Lean On Me” to join on vocals.

In the 2015 Shawn Mendes song “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” he and his duet partner Camila Cabello sing “I know” sections similar to how Withers did in “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Wither was given a songwriting credit because the vocal is so similar.

The Lyrics

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
It's not warm when she's away
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
And she's always gone too long
Anytime she goes away

Wonder this time where she's gone
Wonder if she's gone to stay
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
And this house just ain't no home
Anytime she goes away

And I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know
I know, I know,
Hey, I oughtta leave young thing alone
But ain't no sunshine when she's gone

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
Only darkness every day
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone
And this house just ain't no home
Anytime she goes away
Anytime she goes away
Anytime she goes away
Anytime she goes away

Songwriters: Bill Withers
Ain't No Sunshine lyrics © Dead Game Publishing, Songs Of Universal Inc.

Courtesy of Songfacts

  40 comments for “Song Lyric Sunday – Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone

  1. aisasami
    October 17, 2021 at 9:16 am

    I didn’t know that Bill died last year. He had such a calming voice!

    • Christine Bolton
      October 17, 2021 at 12:25 pm

      Yes, sadly he did. He was getting up there in years. 😢

  2. October 15, 2021 at 4:38 am

    I like this extended piece on Bill Withers and Ain’t No Sunshine.

    • Christine Bolton
      October 15, 2021 at 9:30 am

      Thanks so much. I always enjoy learning about what inspires a songwriter ☺️💕

  3. October 11, 2021 at 5:11 am

    Wow Stephen Stills on guitar-never knew.

    • Christine Bolton
      October 11, 2021 at 7:42 am

      I know! That was a new discovery for me too ☺️

  4. October 10, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    Awesome song and artist! I love me some Bill Withers *smiles*

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 10:12 pm

      That’s great! Thank you 🤣💕

  5. October 10, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    Good choice. I remember Michael Jackson’s version too.

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 10:14 pm

      Thanks Di. MJ was so young he sounded like a little boy singing this song. His sweet voice wasn’t enough for it. I did love Michael. Fave album was Off The Wall.

      • October 11, 2021 at 3:30 pm

        Definitely a great album!!

  6. October 10, 2021 at 12:33 pm

    Oh yes! I’ve loved this song for many years. So good to hear it again, and then the video with Stevie Wonder was so cool. 🙂

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 1:18 pm

      Happy you enjoyed it again Barbara ☺️ Yes, I loved the Stevie Wonder tribute 💕

  7. October 10, 2021 at 11:53 am

    What a great post, what a great choice 💜

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks so much Willow. Bill Withers was great ☺️💕

      • October 10, 2021 at 1:55 pm

        Yes indeed he was 💜

  8. Anonymous
    October 10, 2021 at 10:13 am

    A fantastic choice Christine. I really enjoyed it and, particularly, the Stevie Wonder tribute!

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 1:14 pm

      Thank you! You comment came through as anonymous so I don’t know who wrote it ☺️💕

  9. October 10, 2021 at 3:35 am

    Great choice!!! Since I first saw your entry, can’t seem to stop humming the song <3

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 8:02 am

      Thanks Janis. Yes it kinda sticks with you ! ☺️💕

  10. October 10, 2021 at 2:27 am

    A fine choice!

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 8:03 am

      Thank you Fan 💕

  11. October 10, 2021 at 12:24 am

    I do love this song Christine! ❤️

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 8:04 am

      It’s pretty wonderful isn’t it Ingrid. Why don’t you join us today and share a song? ☺️💕

      • October 10, 2021 at 8:05 am

        I just have too much on at the moment to commit to it 😅 but I do love the idea, and reading some of the posts ❤️

      • Christine Bolton
        October 10, 2021 at 8:08 am

        I completely understand. I can barely get through reading half the D’Verse submissions and feel guilty about that. So many wonderful comments received and I so want to reciprocate. Like you I have too many commitments. We do what we can, right? Hope you have a good Sunday ☺️💕

      • October 10, 2021 at 8:17 am

        Yes, with dVerse I’ve committed to read all the responses when I take part, so it doesn’t leave me with much room for other prompts! 😅💕

      • Christine Bolton
        October 10, 2021 at 8:21 am

        I am impressed! Three times a week is a lot of time when you don’t have much to begin with 😧

      • October 10, 2021 at 8:21 am

        I normally do two a week then it’s more manageable 🤪

      • Christine Bolton
        October 10, 2021 at 8:24 am

        Maybe I need to cut back every now and again 😳

      • October 10, 2021 at 8:42 am

        Yes, make sure you take care of yourself! ❤️

      • Christine Bolton
        October 10, 2021 at 8:47 am

        Yes you too Ingrid, thank you 😊❤️

      • October 10, 2021 at 9:25 am

        Thanks, I’ll try 😅🙏

  12. October 9, 2021 at 11:11 pm

    An excellent choice. Bill Withers was a great singer.

    • Christine Bolton
      October 10, 2021 at 8:04 am

      He certainly was John. Thanks ☺️

  13. October 9, 2021 at 10:29 pm

    Love this song regardless of the grammar!

    • Christine Bolton
      October 9, 2021 at 10:30 pm

      LOL Maggie! 😂

      • October 9, 2021 at 10:35 pm

        Great choice, Christine.

  14. October 9, 2021 at 10:18 pm

    Great choice Christine and thanks for adding the Stevie video.

    • Christine Bolton
      October 9, 2021 at 10:29 pm

      Thanks Jim. It really is an old favorite and it was way too short!

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