Song 186: Bill Withers, “Lovely Day” (1977)Posted: July 5, 2013
“Lovely Day” is quite possibly the most content song I know. It’s not the happiest, necessarily—there’s nothing excitable or exuberant about it—but the most at peace, the most full of love.
As a songwriter, I can tell you that writing a song so full of contentment is really, really hard. One bad line, one oversung note, and the whole thing is too cloying, too corny. I think Bill Withers does it absolutely right in this song: the bassline, just peppy enough, expresses confidence by bouncing along; the horns make only occasional appearances, like rays of sunlight. Even the tempo, unchanging and neither fast nor slow, is the meter of someone walking at a comfortable pace.
Although Withers has many hits to his name (“Lean On Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me,” “Just the Two of Us”), he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because his singing style is very bare-bones, very factual, as if he’s saying, these songs are good. I don’t need to sell ‘em to you, because they are what they are. Take them or leave them. The people who take them love them forever.
Fun fact: that note he sings at the end? At 18 seconds, it’s the longest-held note of any Top 40 hit in the United States.