Bill Withers Wrote “Ain’t No Sunshine” While Making Airplane Toilets

via AP Photo/Mark Duncan

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone”…I bet you heard the tune in your head, didn’t you? Those words, penned by 31-year-old Bill Withers in 1971 and released on Columbia Records, has, over the years, become one of most timeless, classic anthems worldwide.

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“Aint No Sunshine” by Bill Withers

While working in a factory making airplane toilets, the “Lean On Me” actually wrote the famous song. It wasn’t inspired by a lover, although that’s what the song implies. It was written after seeing the movie Days of Wine and Roses. The film is the story of two young lovers, both alcoholics attempting to deal with the stress of their everyday lives. Withers saw the concept of continually returning to something that wasn’t good for you and it sparked the song.

The famous second verse, which consists of 26 consecutive repetitions of the phrase ‘I know’ instead of more lyrics was initially going to change. He’d planned to write a second verse. However, working with Stephen Stills and Booker T. Jones of the popular instrumental R&B/funk band Booker T and the M.F’s, he was influenced to leave the song the way it was. It appeared like this on his debut album Just As I Am, produced by Booker T. Jones.

Billboard Hot 100

Upon the song’s release, it was originally meant to be a B-side to another track, “Harlem.” However, “Ain’t No Sunshine” was instead released as a single, and “Harlem,” however, although still well-received, did not become the hit that its counterpart did. “Ain’t No Sunshine” ended up reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it became even more popular when Michael Jackson covered the song in 1972.

“Ain’t No Sunshine” (Michael Jackson Cover) By Bill Withers

And he wasn’t the only one to cover the song.  Tom Jones, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Kenny Rogers, and Will Young also covered the song, and it’s safe to say that to this day, the song continues to be one of the greatest ballads the world has ever heard. We all recognize it when it’s used in films and TV shows and when it’s sung everywhere.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 29, 2020

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