Bill Withers – 1972 – Still Bill
Bill Withers comes across as someone you’d pass everyday without paying much mind – a humble, yet very perceptive gentleman. Originally from a small coal-mining town in West Virginia, he served 9 years in the US Navy before taking his music abilities more seriously.Bill Withers is probably best known for his wonderful hit, ‘Lovely Day’ – somehow capturing the laziness of a hot summer afternoon perfectly.Of equal measure is the exquisite ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, a song that was given ascintillating rendition by a certain 14 year old wannabe (Michael Jackson, RIP).Even after recording ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, Bill refused to give up his job making aeroplane toilet seats, citing the music industry as fickle. Here we have Bill consolidating the success of that song and his debut, ‘Just as I am’, with arguably his finest long-player.
This is a [email protected] CD rip (supplied by Trakbuv), including original gatefold covers
A1 Lonely Town, Lonely Street (3:44)
A2 Let Me In Your Life (2:39)
A3 Who Is He (What Is He To You) (3:12)
A4 Use Me (3:46)
A5 Lean On Me (4:17)
B1 Kissing My Love (3:49)
B2 I Don’t Know (3:05)
B3 Another Day To Run (4:38)
B4 I Don’t Want You On My Mind (4:35)
B5 Take It All In & Check It All Out (2:40)
Review by Trakbuv
I’ve read a few comments in light of the passing of Michael Jackson that have questioned his (and others past and present) status as a legend as some sort of open debate.Hero worship is a funny thing – it is a human failing to seek someone as a refuge or guide for our dreams and failings.It can be a good thing, but can also drive man against fellow man.The reality of course is that it is ultimately subjective.Just because someone has had the most number ones ever doesn’t mean you have to personally hail them as a legend, or even like them.Of course, in the case of Michael there is no objective dispute as to this status.But it is the need to compare others, living or dead, as some sort of hierarchy that goes beyond playful fantasy that I find disturbing.It made me wonder at how fame can mould a person’s career and their music, and hence notoriety, in defining an iconic legacy.
What would superstardom have done with Mr Bill Withers, for example ?The title of this album ‘Still Bill’ says it all really.Even having had two huge hits in ‘Grandma’s hands’ and ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ (the latter reaching no.3 on the Billboard Pop Charts and receiving a Grammy Award), and a well-received debut LP, ‘Just As I Am’, it was still just Bill.His whole charisma reeked of this guy sat on his porch banging out melodies from a worldly-wise tongue, surrounded by a glazed audience humming among the fireflies.His songs are uncomplicated, simple themes given a wondrous lease of colour and virtuosity that beguiles the senses.And here on ‘Still Bill’, the master really delivers both as songer and singwriter.
‘Lonely town, lonely street’ – a real corker to kick the dust off, Bill takes no prisoners in his aggressive take on the vacuous trappings of the bright lights – and one of my many all-time Bill favourites.Once you’ve picked yourself up from that physical bashing, he pleads with the softest of strokes on ‘Let me in your life’.One of my favourite Bill slowies, its all-too brief sweetness only serves to accentuate the yearning.Goosebumps.Next up is the classic ‘Who is he’, from which I would sing ‘doggarnit’ to anything I begrudgingly had to do as a kid !Everything that Bill Withers stands for is right here – simple repetitive refrain, a biting chorus that almost makes a verse redundant, and a spitting message that fails to hit no-one.Ditto for the moog-led ‘Use me’, another popular Withers number that has the man in vitriolic mode.Do not mess !
‘Lean on me’.Let’s take some time out for what is probably his most majestic song.The arrangement on this is unbelievable ! We start with what is essentially a hum-with-words – creating an amazing meandering melancholy that is broken so spectacularly with ‘lean on me’ in the most earnest call you could ever wish for.And that unorthodox hand-clap rhythm in the chorus (5/4 time ?) is inspirational.And that echo of ‘call me’ on the fade-out sounding like a phone ringing from the one you love.This is planet Genius with honours deservedly capturing the no.1 spot in the US on July 8th, 1972 – almost exactly 37 years ago !Another BIG fave is ‘Kissing my love’, sounding a little like The Meters, Bill gets down and I tell ya’ll – my sway cannot get away when this booms.The jazzy breeziness of ‘I don’t know’ perfectly paves the joyful skip of the lyrics, oh, I’d forgotten just how good the next track is.At over 4.5 minutes, ‘Another day to run’ is Bill getting into opus territory, and what he manages to sneak into those meagre minutes is a burglar’s dream.Astounding message and delivery.On ‘I don’t want you on my mind’, we gets Bill rockin’ that rockin’ chair with the sun glistening off his half empty bottle of rye.Bill does the blues with utmost respect to the blues.That trademark chug of the guitar is sewn through the fabric of ‘Take it all in’, which although a blatant melodic rip-off of ‘Who is he’, the message still stands loud and proud on its own.
There is something so reliably down-to-earth about Bill’s folk-soul – something reassuring and honest.The rarest of talents with an ear for sweet melodies and incisive lyrics – and an endearing and enduring voice that is instantly recognisable.And I think we should have a ‘Bill Withers’ day where everyone takes out 4 minutes and 17 seconds every year to sing ‘Lean on me’. And if any of this is the stuff of legends, then so be it.