Monday, April 20, 2020

Top Five Bill Withers Songs

Acclaimed soul legend Bill Withers died on March 30 from heart complications. He was 81. Withers was one of the most cherished and respected artists of the 20th century. Throughout the 1970s, he released a string of amazing songs, many of which have become timeless classics. He continued to release great music in the ‘80s, particularly in the early part of that decade. Withers had a rare gift as a songwriter and storyteller that few artists could match. All of his songs possess a sense of authenticity and emotional power that makes the listener believe every word as if it were gospel. Withers’ talents earned him tons of accolades and awards, including three Grammys. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. In recognition of the artist, I’ve made a list of my top five favorite Bill Withers songs. Here is the list in no particular order

Kissing My Love (1973)

This joyous tune touches on a subject that many people can relate to—the feeling of pure euphoria when kissing your sweetheart. The infectious groove features a percolating beat, funky wah-wah guitar licks and a superb string arrangement. And Withers infuses his vocals with heaps of gritty down-home soul. When this cut comes on, you have no choice but to "pat your foot, don't stop/put your foot on the rock.”

Kissing My Love at Amazon

Lean On Me (1972)

“Lean On Me” is a stirring anthem of hope, resilience and solidarity. It has long been a go-to song at public gatherings to lift people’s spirits and bring them closer together; it has been sung in a variety of settings, including school assemblies, church services, AA meetings, sporting events, charity fundraisers, weddings, protest marches and family reunions. This beautiful gospel-soul masterpiece struck a universal chord among listeners and is forever etched in our cultural landscape. There’s even a major motion picture named after it. One of the things that separates “Lean on Me '' from a lot other inspirational songs is the honesty and sincerity that Withers so effortlessly brings to it.

"Lean On Me" at Amazon

Grandma’s Hands (1971)

There is something truly magical about this song. The lyrics are so powerful that they could easily stand on their own as a poem. I can imagine seeing them on the pages of an anthology of great African-American poetry. However, the haunting music arrangement coupled with Withers’ soulful baritone make “Grandma’s Hands” a transcendent piece. The singer reminisces about his late grandmother’s generous spirit and quiet strength. The song showcases what a gifted storyteller Withers was. You can clearly envision the events that he recounts about his beloved “grandma” in the verses.

"Grandma's Hands" at Amazon

Lovely Day (1977)

On this breezy slice of R&B, Withers reflects on the restorative power of love and how it can help a person maintain a positive outlook in the face of life’s many hardships and uncertainties. The song has an uplifting, reassuring tone and is great to listen to when you need a musical boost for your spirits. And the arrangement is topflight—groovin’ bass, soothing horn charts and airy strings. A bit of interesting trivia about the song: Withers set a record for the longest sustained note on a US chart hit when he held a high E note for 18 seconds near the end of "Lovely Day."

"Lovely Day" at Amazon

Use Me (1972)

“Use Me” is the bittersweet tale of a dysfunctional relationship between the song’s narrator and his overbearing, emotionally abusive partner. She humiliates and undermines him at every turn, but he readily endures this mistreatment because the benefits behind closed doors outweigh the abuse: “It ain't too bad the way you're using me/'Cause I sure am using you to do the things you do.” The musical arrangement fits the lyrical content well. The seductive groove is bolstered by Ray Jackson’s funky hohner clavinet and James Gadson’s super-smooth drum pattern. And Melvin Dunlap’s bass work keeps the flow sweet and sexy.

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