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Bill Withers on Image and Talent

Bill Withers on Image and Talent



“This just isn’t my time.  I grew up in the age of Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin—where a fat, ugly broad that could sing, had value.  Now everything is about image.”

– Bill Withers to Rolling Stone, 2015

Bill Withers old
Bill Withers in 2015

Of course Bill Withers is observing something that once aggrieved many music lovers but isn’t part of the conversation much anymore. It was once about the record and looks were useful but not imperative to have a hit song. This changed quickly and irrevocably when MTV exploded in the early-1980s. You didn’t see so many fat singers after that. When Belinda Carlisle had her first solo smash in 1987 with “Mad About You,” I thought that at least half of the excitement was generated by her weight loss and sleek glamorous look.

Bill Withers is best known for the soul classics “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” and “Just the Two of Us” (with Grover Washington, Jr.), but my favorite Bill Withers song is “Lovely Day,” originally recorded in 1977 and re-released in 1980.