12 September 2019

"Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers (1971) / Michael Jackson (1972)

This is a song I had been aware of for some time, having heard the Michael Jackson version back in the day.  Recently a homey sent me a link of Ain't No Sunshine being performed by none other than Stevie Wonder, which is embedded below.

That was during Bill Withers' 2015 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Thus it's safe to conclude that Ain't No Sunshine is his signature song.  To help give insight on how miraculous an event this was, Bill Withers "was working a a factor making toilet seats... at the time he wrote the song".  In other words he was not a professional musician, with Ain't No Sunshine actually being the first song he released ever.  And the track went on to achieve a number of accolades, including making Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.

This is partially due to its easy-to-follow and universally-identifiable message of the singer missing the hell out of his shorty, who has apparently forsaken him.  But it's also because the way Bill Withers established it as a song that has an intrinsic soul.  Thus it takes an artist like Stevie Wonder to really be able to pull it off.  And that also brings us to the next artist, Michael Jackson.

MJ would have recorded this song when he was about 13 years old.  Anyone who thinks that Jacko got his foot in the door via dancing never heard him sing as a child.  In fact Michael Jackson perhaps had the most-powerful voice of any child in recorded history - powerful enough for him to be the man of the house before even becoming a man.  And for those who aren't familiar with that talent outside of common Jackson 5 hits, I suggest you take a listen to his rendition below:

And on the (American) B-side to the song lies another early-MJ sleeper, I Wanna Be Where You Are.


A number of artists, including Paul McCartney, have covered Ain't No Sunshine in the past.  But given the intrinsic power of the song, it's understandable why perhaps more recognizable singers haven't attempted taking a stab at it.  In other words the legacy of this song is such that only those who can genuinely sing should attempt to make a memorable rendition of it.