Record of the Day: Bill Withers, "Greatest Hits"

Record of the Day: Bill Withers, “Greatest Hits”

Bill Withers
Bill Withers’ Greatest Hits (CD Columbia CK 37199)

Even if the name Bill Withers isn’t too familiar to you, you will undoubtedly know some of his songs, which have now become classics in countless different versions. It’s impossible to turn on the radio without sooner or later encountering songs like “Lovely Day”, “Lean on Me”, “Just the Two of Us”, “Ain’t No Sunshine”, revisited by dozens of great performers including Paul McCartney, Liza Minnelli, Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Joe Cocker and Diana Ross (just to name a few) and subsequently remixed by legions of DJs and sampled by many rap and hip-hop groups, remaining current and valid for younger generations even through the continuous use of this music in commercials.

Much less known are the original versions made by Withers in his solo albums, made with exasperating slowness and perfectionism (his last work dates back to 1985; the artist passed away in 2020).
His beautiful voice manages to hit the target much more precisely than other illustrious interpreters, but the shy character of
Withers kept him as far away from newspapers, interviews and television as possible, making these records a delight aimed at a narrow niche of listeners.

In an attempt to make these recordings more widely known, Columbia has created several anthologies of his work
Withers in recent years, but this 1981 compilation remains the best and brings together all the authentic jewels that came from the pen of this amazing composer.

In his songs the absolute simplicity of the melodic and harmonic structure is combined with a great refinement of writing that avoids the clichés of the soul genre and at the same time renews it through memorable themes that immediately creep into the memory. Songs more influenced by the blues such as “Use Me” (Grace Jones’ version was excellent) and “Who Is He And What Is He to You” (revisited with class by Me’Shell Ndegéocello) alternate with songs such as “I Want to Spend the Night”, “Grandma’s Hands”, “Hello Like Before”, whose beautiful melodies remain among the best episodes of the American Songbook: there is no shortage of famous collaborations with luxury jazz musicians such as Grover Washington jr and the Crusaders, who roll out soft carpets instrumental for Withers’ very expressive voice.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.