Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
As album titles go, few have been as apt as Bill Withers’ debut album Just As I Am. From the get-go, Withers showed an unwillingness to do anything other than follow his heart. There is no artifice here. No following trends. No bullshit.
Having left the navy in 1965, he grifted around L.A. until the release of his debut, but he refused to leave his day job believing the music world to be a fickle, shallow mess. Indeed the album seemed destined to be overlooked until a DJ played the B-side of “Harlem” and it took flight. Although that song (“Ain’t No Sunshine”) became synonymous with Withers, there are other equally outstanding cuts that underline the quality of this debut album. The aforementioned “Harlem” is a glorious, foot-stomping tale of that most famous of neighborhoods, while his cover of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” sanctifies and elevates it accordingly.
Nestled there innocently in the middle of the album though is the piece de resistance “Hope She’ll Be Happier”—as great a song about the breakup of a relationship as you will ever hear. The hypnotic guitar, the shimmering melancholy organ of Booker T. Jones and Withers’ embittered and bewildered vocals combine to reach a peak others could only dream of.