SONGS OF OBSESSION: BILL WITHERS’ "CAN WE PRETEND"


Bill Withers: Can We Pretend & Stories
From +’Justments (Sussex, 1974)

For some reason, Bill Withers has the reputation as someone whose songwriting was better than his singing. I always found this a strange accusation – Withers was certainly a genius writer (“Ain’t No Sunshine” anyone?) but it’s hardly as if he had a terrible voice. It’s true – he didn’t have the range or purity of tone like Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke but Withers was comforting and familiar – like a good friend to share an afternoon with. For some reason, he reminds me of what a happier Chet Baker might have sounded like singing soul.

Anyways, most soul/funk heads I know own two Withers’ albums – maybe three, but that’s about it: Still Bill, Just As I Am and Menagerie (for “Lovely Day”). But I admit, I’ve always passed by +’Justments and never thought twice about it. Until I listened to it.

The more uptempo, funkier stuff is ok – definitely not as good as what’s on Still Bill but it’s ok. However, two of the ballads really shine. “Stories” reminds me of a Donny Hathaway song – simple and elegant with just a piano in the background. Even better is “Can We Pretend” – simply sublime, especially Withers’ vocal arrangement. Damn, how did I sleep on this for so long?

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1 comment to SONGS OF OBSESSION: BILL WITHERS’ "CAN WE PRETEND"

  • S.james

    The simplicity of these lyrics are not to be denied but the words resonate with anyone who has feelings for someone and has been dealt a bad card in love before.
    Not wanting yesterday’s lover to impact on what you feel for this person in front of you. ‘Can we pretend that from now on there is no yesterday’ Because yesterday shouldn’t impact on today, but in fact everything we do today is informed from yesterday.
    So in fact the shadow he sees is just a shadow, and we just need to push forward until they recede.
    These are indeed beautiful and the very finely observed Words of someone who loves someone and wants to make it better.
    This is the first time for me I’ve heard this song and I adore it and understand it completely in my heart.

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