I woke up the other day humming the vocals from Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” for no reason at all. Must have heard it somewhere on the radio or TV without consciously acknowledging it. Too many songs get stuck in my head like that, usually ones I don’t like. But “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of my favorites, and after listening to it a handful of times, I started wondering who had covered it, and whether their covers were any good.
Below are a couple versions from Bill Withers, and then all the covers I could find; the good, the bad, and the laughable. If you can’t get this song out of your head, Kenny Rogers and Sting are here to help. The Michael Jackson, Freddie King, and Roland Kirk covers are must-hears, though. Killer stuff. Before you scroll down, here’s some info on the song, all from Wikipedia:
“Ain’t No Sunshine” is a song by Bill Withers from his 1971 album Just as I Am, produced by Booker T. Jones. The record featured musicians Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass guitar and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums, as well as Withers on lead vocals and guitar. String arrangements were done by Booker T. Jones, and recorded in Memphis by Engineer Terry Manning. The song was released as a single in September 1971, becoming a breakthrough hit for Withers, reaching number six on the U.S. R&B chart and number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The song was originally released as the B-side to another song called “Harlem”. Disc jockeys played “Ain’t No Sunshine” as the single instead, and it became a huge hit, the first hit for Withers.
It was released on his 1971 debut Just as I Am and in 1972 it won a Grammy for best R&B song. Before releasing his first album, Bill Withers was a factory worker responsible for manufacturing toilet seats in 747s. Anyone interested in tracking down his records will be happy to know that 4 Men with Beards is reissuing his first two records on 180 gram vinyl in late November. Just for fun, I tacked “Harlem” onto the end of this post, so you can hear the A-side that the DJs neglected to play.
Live on The Midnight Special:
Michael Jackson nails it, from Got To Be There (1972):
And Freddie King turns in a killer version of his own, live:
Rahsaan Roland Kirk, from Blacknuss (1972) Both MJ and Kirk opened their albums with Withers’ song:
Scott Walker—yes, that Scott Walker—from Any Day Now (1973):
Mobb Deep feat. Raekwon. Can’t figure out which album this comes from:
DMX, from Exit Wounds Original Soundtrack (2001):
Woven Hand, from their 2002 self-titled album:
Of course Me First and the Gimme Gimmes have a version:
Jose Feliciano, playing it live on The Englebert Humperdinck Show in 1972:
Nancy Sinatra, the B-Side to 1973’s “Sugar Me”:
Eva Cassidy, with the same twist:
Aaron Neville and his mole give it a shot:
Tracy Chapman and Buddy Guy:
Lenny Kravitz manages not to murder it:
Sting embarrassing himself with David Sanborn:
Kenny Rogers brings the laughs:
Dopethrone growls it out:
and, finally, “Harlem.” The A-side to “Ain’t No Sunshine”: