#333: Still Bill, Bill Withers
RS cites a quote from Withers about Black artists being “conned” into stuffing their albums full of “so-called standards,” and notes that Withers wrote all these songs himself. It’s ironic, then, that Withers wrote a song so timeless that many people know it without knowing who he himself is.
My best writing/music friend and I have often discussed artists that we think create “instant classics,” songs that immediately sound like they’ve existed since the beginning of time. Think Adele (“When We Were Young”) and early T. Swift (“All Too Well” and “Fifteen”). Think Bill Withers. There are a number of songs on here that sound to me like they were written at the same time that the US Constitution was created — see “Another Day to Run” and the sardonic cool-guy chill pill anthem “Take It All In and Check It All Out.”
And of COURSE there’s “Lean On Me,” a song so good that the original Stand and Deliver was named after it. The lyrics are more simple and resonant than a prayer. There must have been such pressure being the man who wrote this song. You have to be nice to everybody forever, for the rest of your life. Instant classic.
What is is about these Instant Classic Artists that makes them so eternal? Maybe it’s the fact that they pick one point and exhaust it. Withers’ point is jaded love, the best example being “Use Me,” a song so bitter, Fiona Apple covered it. Withers’ is so savvy that it hurts a bit to hear, with “Let Me in Your Life,” “Kissing My Love,” and “I Don’t Want You on My Mind” being the savviest. I believe that [love] shows a sign of weakness, he admits. It’s not what you want to hear; it’s the God’s honest truth.
It’s low-hanging fruit to say that Withers has a beautiful voice, so let’s instead talk about the fact that Withers is also an excellent musician. I love his guitar on “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” and “I Don’t Know.” I especially love the violin strumming on “Who Is He (And What Is He to You?)”. It’s sexy, it’s angry, it’s just strings. And yet…
Bill Withers had a sweet smile until he died. That being said, these photo collage album covers just destroy me. They look like those pages your parents can buy for their kids in high school yearbooks. Anyway.