Skip to main content

The Wedding Jam Blog

Unforgettable stories from unforgettable Weddings.

Posted:

Remembering Bill Withers

On Friday 3rd April, with the world in a state of ongoing emergency and grief, news broke that the great Bill Withers had passed a few days earlier at the age of 81.

Born in a small coal-mining town in West Virginia in 1938, Withers suffered poverty and loss from an early age, losing his father when he was just 13, and grew up with a stutter. He didn't even take up the guitar until his late 20s, learning to play on a battered old acoustic. He duly went on to become a bona-fide legend of American songwriting and soul, as you do.

We've rounded up ten of his best, from the classics to the odd deeper cut you may not have heard. In these troubling times, Withers' serene, elegant and yet impassioned sound can be an antidote for our souls right now. Enjoy.

3000

Ain't No Sunshine

Let's kick off with his most-listened to on Spotify, with over 264 million plays. Incredibly, 'Ain't No Sunshine' was originally the b-side to another song called 'Harlem'. Instead, radio DJs began to play 'Ain't No Sunshine', and it became a huge hit.

The song - with a divine string section arranged by Booker T, and Stephen Stills, of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash fame, on guitar - represented Withers' breakthrough, and he never looked back.

The version we're sharing here is an absolutely stunning live performance - minus those occasional yet heavenly strings, but no less beautiful.

Harlem

So, the song that in Bill's mind relegated Ain't No Sunshine to mere b-side fodder. It's a majestic stomp of a tune in its own right, building to an enormous soulful crescendo, driven along by swirling strings and crashing drums. Stirring stuff.

Lovely Day

A song from 1977 to make anyone smile from the very second that unmistakable bass groove kicks in, right the way until Bill - singing the word 'day' - miraculously holds the note for an eternity. What a singer. Gorgeously optimistic and life-affirming, 'Lovely Day' is an all-time classic, and a song we've been reaching for quite a lot in these bleakest of times. Music really is the best medicine.

Use Me

Musicians have a phrase - 'in the pocket'. It's mostly particular to music of black origin - soul, jazz, funk and hip-hop - and means when the band are absolutely in that groove...syncopated drums and bass in particular. 'Use Me' was Bill's 2nd biggest hit in the US, and it is totally in the pocket.

Kissing My Love

Another in the pocket jam. This man had so much rhythm and groove, with an abundance of soul, and 'Kissing My Love' sees it all come together in one of his best tracks. Includes a wonderful spot of whistling - always a plus.

Just the Two of Us

One of Bill's later hits, in 1980, and revitalised in 1997 with Will Smith's cover, Just the Two of Us is glossier than his earlier work, with clean keys and a smooth sax solo late on. This Grammy-winning song is memorable for its hugely uplifting chorus, and is a fitting theme for any wedding party.

Grandma's Hands

Not a particularly big hit at the time, but covered by countless artists, as well as famously sampled by Blackstreet on No Diggity. Obviously a paean to his own beloved Grandma, who would take Bill with her to church and clap and sing along with the hymns. Bill once said: "It was spontaneous singing, there was nothing programmed. People got up and sang and everybody would join in. It was my favourite kind of singing" - which makes a lot of sense when you listen to Bill sing.

Again, we've included a stunning live version for your pleasure.

I Want to Spend the Night

Taken from the same 1977 LP as 'Lovely Day', this is a sublime and irresistible love song full of jazzy chords and a kind of samba flavour. Listen to this with your husband or wife to be and you'll fall in love all over again.

Can We Pretend

Featuring José Feliciano on guitar, 'Can We Pretend' is an utterly gorgeous slice of the sort melancholic soul Bill had completely mastered. A beautiful, beautiful vibe.

Lean on Me

Okay so we're getting dewy-eyed now. In this classic, Bill plaintively offers a shoulder to lean on and asks for one in return. Though we're all isolated right now, never has 'we all need to somebody to lean on' felt so apt. Lean on your friends, lean on your loved ones, and let them lean on you. Thank you for the music, Bill, and goodnight.