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"Ain’t No Sunshine (Live at the Forum)” – Michael Jackson (Jackson 5)

Excerpt from Live at the Forum – Disc 2 (1972)

Today’s Forum story… is not strictly about the Forum, or a song recorded at the Forum. But it is about a performance so complete it had to be included in the Forum album:

 The original “Ain’t No Sunshine” marked the debut of singer-songwriter Bill Withers, from Slab Fork, W. Virginia. Withers’ single was a big hit in the late spring and summer of 1971, at the moment Michael was prepping his own solo debut. MJ’s version of it was selected as one of the five cover songs for the Got To Be There LP; it, in fact, led off the album when issued in January ‘72. Bill was 20 years older than 13-year-old MJ at the time. But as we heard with Michael’s performance of “Who’s Lovin’ You” – and just about anything else he took on – age hardly mattered.

 Michael’s “Ain’t No Sunshine,” with an edgy arrangement and an original spoken-word intro, was not a single in the U.S. but a popular album cut. It was issued as a single in the U.K. in July 1972 and went top ten pop there – beating out Withers’ “Lean On Me” – and its chart success added to the excitement of the J5’s four shows in England in November.

 As noted in the CD booklet, “Sunshine” was not performed at the Forum in L.A. It was added to?/tried out in?/restored to? the set in San Diego the next night, two days before MJ’s 14th birthday, when the group played the International Sports Arena, a fact discovered during the research stages of the album, when we were looking for every possible piece of J5 live tape. The L.A. show had the edge in terms of history, drama and energy, but it didn’t have “Ain’t No Sunshine”: one of those jaw-dropping performances, with young MJ stretching his soul over a risky, long arrangement, a moment that reached beyond satisfying the screaming fans who’d come to hear the hits. You can’t go back the studio version the same way ever again.

 It had to be in this album. During production there was a conversation about adding San Diego’s “Sunshine” as a bonus track – after the end of the Forum show – but that diluted the excitement of hearing it in the set. So, like many, many live albums, we added an “outside” performance to the overall set; unlike most live albums we did no other edits (except to close up occasional between-song pauses that are a drag listening to at home), no overdubs, no auto-tuning, no added applause.


Tomorrow: Another emotional cover version, from the 1970 show

P.S. Anyone catch full tracks from the album being previewed on NYC’s No. 1 radio station today? Thank you, Pat St. John.

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