Chances are, you’re a Bill Withers fan.
Bill’s music is special. It’s honest, sincere, often simple, and undeniably catchy. We’ve all heard and loved “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Lean On Me” & “Lovely Day” at some point in our lives, and those of us who have dug deeper into his catalog have been rewarded accordingly. Yet his output was relatively limited. It is odd to come across unreleased or unheard Bill Withers songs after a certain point in discovering his music. I remember being very surprised to hear a Bill sample that I didn’t recognize in Kanye West’s “Roses”. It was sourced from an outtake included on the CD re-release of Menagerie, a demo entitled “Rosie”.
I came across a plain sleeve 7″ of two Withers’ songs I had never heard of one day while looking through 45s. “The Gift Of Giving”/”Let Us Love” titles sounded unfamiliar, so I bought it. There is no album information or any other release info on the single, though a live version of “Let Us Love” is featured on the excellent Live at Carnegie Hall album which was recorded in October 1972, at the peak of his chart popularity having just released “Lean On Me”. Before he performs the song, he tells a classic blue-collar-Bill story of being moved by the spirit of Christmas and how it would be nice to carry that feeling on beyond the season. It turns out both of the songs on the single are Christmas songs and it was a special release put out during the holidays that same year.
Listening to “The Gift of Giving”, it’s not immediately apparent that it’s a Christmas song. The minor key and slow guitar gives it a somewhat erie or sad feeling off the top. Bill sets a Winter scene and gives his own twist on the age-old ‘give and ye shall receive’ concept. “Let Us Love” is more upbeat and is written from the perspective that it’s NOT Christmas Day or Easter or any special day, and although it’s just another square on the calendar, we should treat each other like we would on those holidays. What a guy.
The record I found was in pretty bad shape, so this year I sought out a better copy. To my surprise, I found it in a nice picture sleeve, complete with mistletoe, a smiling Mr. Withers, and a transcription of his dialogue from the live album.
It’s always fun to find new little rarities like this when you think you’ve already found everything from one of your favourite artists. And if Bill isn’t one of your favourite artists, you should check him out. His career has been just as unique as his music and I highly recommend you take in the documentary “Still Bill” if you haven’t already. Makes a great last minute Christmas gift! Or as Bill would have it, a gift for any day of the year.