I don’t know why, but when I look back at the late 60′s and early 70′s it seems as if the songs, which were mostly singles, were so much more iconic. Even if we just focus on African American “pop” singers you get these flat amazing songs like Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” or Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” or Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” I think about “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, “Ball of Confusion” by The Temptations, “Superfly” by Curtis Mayfield, “Theme From Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, “For The Love of Money” by The O’Jays, “Will It Go Round in Circles” by Billy Presto, “Soul Makossa” by Manu Dibango, “Fire” by The Ohio Players, “Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied)” by B.T. Express and anything by James Brown, War, Sly & The Family Stone, Barry White or The Spinners. Forget about the women; “Mr Big Stuff” by Jean Knight, “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus, “Band of Gold” by Freda Payne, “Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight, “Respect Yourself” by The Staple Singers and countless songs by Diana Ross & The Supremes. These songs all seems larger than life all these years later and I’ve left out dozens of artists. Maybe it’s just me, but you didn’t need Soul Train to know these songs were great.
One artist who seemed to really march into the fore was a guy named Bill Withers. Withers had a voice from above as he nailed the vocal in tracks like “Lean On Me, Ain’t No Sunshine, Lovely Day, Just The Two of Us” and the song I came to write about today; his 1972 hit “Use Me.” These are five of the greatest songs you’ll ever want to hear. “Ain’t No Sunshine” used to absolutely leap out of my AM radio when I was a kid. It sounded like God was talking directly to me. I came to learn the meaning of this song unfortunately, but bleep happens. Upon researching Bill’s career I stumbled across the fact that he married Liz McIntyre, er, Denise Nicholas from the late 60′s early 70′s sitcom Room 222. I had totally forgotten about the countless hours I spent watching this show as ten year old until just now. Too bad they divorced a year later. I know 98% of you out there will have no clue what I’m talking about, but Room 222 was a hot show 40 years ago. It ran from 1969 through 1974. 112 episodes. Karen Valentine was one of my first TV crushes right there with Laurie Partridge and Marcia Brady. Yikes. I’m not sure Room 222 had the cache of, say, Leave It To Beaver (kidding), but I know I watched a ton of it now that my memory has been jogged. Man I’m on the back nine…
Anyway, Withers had his picture right next to Al Green under “Soul” in the dictionary. He had such a commanding and soulful voice it stays with us to this very day. “Use Me” was and is so damn cool it makes my head spin. I went looking to find good covers of this song and found a slew of artists who had made it their own. How does Isaac Hayes, Aaron Neville, Fiona Apple, Mick Jagger, Al Jarreau, Grace Jones, Liza Minelli, Junior Wells, My Brightest Diamond, Widespread Panic and Ben Harper, for starters, sound? I have been touting this cover of “Use Me” by Coolbone for awhile to my friends and it caught on when I snuck into a mixed MP3 playlist I sent them to the beach with one day. Now they love it. I don’t even know who Coolbone is to be truthful about it, but they turned up on this great compilation called A Wicked Good Sampler and I stumbled on it by accident. I think it’s a Newbury Comics cheapo mcgeapo CD they use to promote their wares. Sold. I’m a sucker for cash register positioning.
So here are some of my favorite covers of the Bill Withers classic. Check out Coolbone’s line “…She knew what I was doing so I pushed up on her like Shaquille “O’Neal on Patrick Ewing” in their rap interlude. Hystercial and fun as hell. Enjoy.
Buy or download Lean On Me: The Best of Bill Withers From Amazon here.