Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Bee Gees album by album

(Working down the gold mine....links need updating)

One of the biggest selling bands on the planet - their success was mainly in the Sixties and Seventies, though they retained a respectable following until the turn of the century. I have never been comfortable with their image, seeing them as a fluffy pop band of no interest, though they were there as part of my musical background for a long time, and while their music was poppy, it seemed well done, so I wasn't completely dismissive of them - just not interested in the music, and put off by their fluffy and uncool image. They did, however, have a big impact on me with Saturday Night  Fever. An astonishing musical achievement that had a big influence on the emerging disco scene. However, while liking and respecting their music for the film, I didn't think enough of the band to seriously seek out their other music (I did listen to a couple of other albums, but was put off by their flowery pop character). About a year or two ago, while looking into the development of prog rock I listened carefully to Odessa and was somewhat surprised and impressed. So I now think it's time to look closer at the band.


The band was formed and had their first few years of recording and performing in Australia, so they were initially associated with Australia, and I always thought they were Australian, but the brothers were born and brought up in Manchester. They emigrated to Australia in 1958, when the brothers were around 10 years old.  Some folks consider them British, others consider them Australian, and yet others view them as Anglo-Australian.  Their father, Hugh Gibb, was a drummer and bandleader, though not very successful. Some credit his interest in music with inspiring the brothers to form a band, though the brothers themselves tell a story that during Saturday Morning Pictures in Manchester, there was an opportunity for youngsters to mime along to a record, and the boys fancied doing this, but on the day they dropped and broke the record, so had to sing it live instead. The cinema manager liked the idea, and encouraged them to do it the following weeks. The boys called themselves The Rattlesnakes, though the band was short-lived.

The Battle of the Blue and the Grey  1963  First single - performance on Australian TV

The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs  (1965)

An Australian only release which was mainly a collection of their previous three years of singles. Fairly typical mish mash of late Fifties / early Sixties ballads. All songs written by Barry.

Spicks and Specks  (1966)

This does sound like a Bee Gees record. Most songs are write by Barry, though Robin and Maurice both write one.  "Spicks and Specks" was released as a single in Australia, and was their first single released in the UK.

Bee Gees' 1st  (1967)

The band's first international release. An assured debut that fits in well with the psychedelic pop of the time, and is a fairly sophisticated and accomplished album. All songs credited to Barry and Robin. "New York Mining Disaster 1941" was the first song they wrote after moving to the UK and signing with Robert Stigwood. The lyrics concern a trapped miner showing a photo of his wife to a colleague - Mr Jones. The brothers say they wrote it while sitting in a stair well in the dark and imaging they were in a mine shaft. There was no New York Mining Disaster, and nobody is clear why the brothers named it that. It was their first international hit.

Horizontal  (1968)

The band are now well into their stride, and the opening song, "World",  seems very typical of the sort of pop music they released in the Sixties with the vocal style associated with them at the time. It's this sort of stuff that put me off them.All three brothers are credited  jointly for all the songs.  "Lemons Never Forget" is an earnest and decent song. "Harry Braff" also has an edge, and could be something by the Kinks or the Hollies. "Birdie Told Me" filters its Beatles well enough that it could be something by Oasis, though "The Earnest of Being George" is perhaps too close to the Beatles to be of more than passing interest.  The big hit was "Massachusetts", which carries its Byrds influence very well. I always thought that Massachusetts was a difficult word for lads with big teeth to sing, and it seemed to take them longer than anyone else to get that word out of their mouth.

Idea  (1968)

"I've Gotta Get A Message To You" was the big single.

Odessa  (1969)

Grrr. I hate it when that happens. I wrote a good piece on Ideas and on Odessa, but then my browser crashed, and I lost everything......

Cucumber Castle  (1970)

This is the album the two brothers made while Robin was still sulking. Without him they seem to leave behind the Beatles influence and go in a folky direction. It's a pleasant is rather small album. The lead single,  the country-tinged "Don't Forget To Remember", went up against Robin's "Saved By The Bell", which is typical lush, warbling Bee Gees music, both songs reached number 2 in the UK charts. After which the band fairly well disappeared until their disco sound of the late 70s.


Score: 2

2 Years On  (1970)

Robin returns, and the result is an album of uninspired and poor quality songs which show their Beatles influence way too much. This is a second rate album in so many ways with very little to redeem it, though there is some energy and variety in the songs. I quite like the rocking "Back Home" which blends a bit of CSN&Y in with the Beatles.  The single, "Lonely Days", could be mistaken for a Paul McCartney song - this Beatles sound was picked up by Electric Light Orchestra who had a big success with it.

Score: 2

Trafalgar   (1971)

A fairly dreary warbling album. Liked by some as "lush pop", this is a collection of uninspired maudlin and sentimental ballads as though the boys were trying hard to please. Included in 1001 Albums for some totally random reason. One of the worse Bee Gees albums, though it does contain "How Do You Mend A Broken Heart", which is not my thing, but is a decent enough Burt Bacharach type song, sincerely sung.  Al Green did a wonderful cover.

Score: 2

To Whom It May Concern  (1972)

Stephen Holden's 1976 review in Rolling Stone provides telling and perceptive comments not just on the album but also on the band as a whole. He said that the Bees Gees occupied "a very limited territory of pop music", dealing mainly in ballads of "momentary pathos", and that the album was "headphone mood music that makes no demands beyond a superficial emotional surrender to its perfumed atmosphere of pink frosting and glitter", and that the Gibbs vocal style had developed to the point where "they sound more like reed instruments than singers".

There is a white soul touch to this album, picking up on the lush, smooth sound that was being developed in Philadelphia, and would be called the Philly Sound with artists such as The Delfonics with "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)", and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes with "If You Don't Know Me by Now".  The white soul version of the Philly Sound was emerging around the same time with Daryl Hall & John Oates whose first album, Whole Oats, was released just after the Bee Gees album. 

"Paper Mache, Cabbages And Kings" is a fascinating song - there's Pink Floyd, Hall & Oates, John Lennon, Oasis, the Beatles, the Moody Blues, and Brian and Michael of "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats & Dogs" fame. The album is professionally made and competent, and is pleasant enough to listen to with its lush and pleasing sound. But it's not really very satisfying, and a little goes a long way. It's a bit like eating candy floss - it's fun now and again, but essentially meaningless and unsatisfying.

Score: 3

Life in a Tin Can  (1973)

There's a dreadful lack of ideas about this, and even the Bees Gees knack for knocking off professional and listenable songs has left them. This is very dull.

Score: 2

Mr. Natural  (1974)
A number of commentators regard this as the transitional album which would lead the Bee Gees directly to the music of Saturday Night Fever. I can understand that, though To Whom It May Concern had already put the band on that route, albeit the journey went off course with  Life in a Tin Can.  Generally "Throw A Penny" is seen as the most obviously Philly soulful of the tracks; though the track (as with most of the album) is nearer to rock than soul, it does have a James Brown beat that David Bowie liked to use, and had been using since at least 1972 when he played Got To Have A Job live. "Heavy Breathing" delivers that stomping James Brown beat more clearly, driving a strong R&B sound - it's the most accomplished song on the album, with some funky brass and wah wah guitar, and is worlds apart from the candyfloss Bee Gees.  The album is not fully achieved, but is musically more adventurous and serious than anything since Odessa. 

Score: 3

Main Course  (1975)

This is the Bee Gees breakthrough disco album. It opens with two classics - "Nights On Broadway", which became a disco hit when sung by Candi Staton, and "Jive Talkin" which was re-released on the Saturday Night Fever album (not not included in the film) and became part of the disco breakthrough associated with that film. "Nights On Broadway" is seen as significant for the falsetto screaming by Barry Gibb toward the end of the track. Though the band were used to falsetto singing, and Maurice Gibb does falsetto singing all through the song, it was Barry's first time, and was something he explored further in their disco songs. Here's an interesting live version on Midnight Special in which Barry doesn't do his falsetto singing.  "Jive Talking" is a great funky track, and various influences can be detected, including "Superstition",   "Shame, Shame, Shame",  "Funky Stuff", "You're The One", and 461 Ocean Boulevard, particularly "Get Ready" and "Mainline Florida".

The album came out as a positive time for blue-eyed soul with a number of notable soul albums by white artists such as Young Americans (1975),  AWB (1974),  Abandoned Luncheonette (1973), Five-A-Side (1974), and Slow Dancer (1974). Personally I feel those other albums are stronger than this, as after the first two tracks, the album becomes fairly ordinary. It has the usual competent crafted pop songs that plod along with various Gibbs warbling voices, but never rises above reasonably pleasant music.

Score: 4

Children Of The World  (1976)

The opening track. "You Should Be Dancing", is awesome. A disco classic - it struts in a compelling fashion. The next few tracks are OK, but are give or take. "Boogie Child", the opener on Side Two, is a decent bit of white funk. Yvonne Elimann, who had worked with Clapton on 461 Ocean Boulevard, covered "Love Me", the second track, and the album finishes nicely with soft white soul ballads tinged with a little funk. It's pleasant stuff, and the end result is an attractive and listenable album. Nothing ground breaking, but certainly quite accomplished.

Score 4/5

Here at Last... Bee Gees... Live    (1977)

The first official live Bee Gees album is a double album covering their hits from the Sixties and the Seventies. There is a lack of excitement in the performances. They seem to just work their way through the songs and then go home. Dull.

Score: 2

Saturday Night Fever  (1977)



* BrothersGibb
* AllMusic
* Discogs
* Charts
* GibbsSongs
* BestEverAlbums

87 April 2019

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments welcome