Bee Gees – Odessa

The Bee Gees’ red velvet masterpeace (sic) brims with drama and melodrama.

Side 1 forms the core of a concept album of sorts, far-reaching yet highly personal, albeit in the brothers’ characteristically oblique fashion.

Then side 2 takes us on a wholly unexpected diversion – five songs in styles vastly different from what has gone before and from each other kicking off with the languid Marley Purt Drive (a competent but unimaginative Band tribute/rip-off) and wrapped up by the startling Whisper, Whisper – teetering melody, stoner vocal, slyly knowing late 60s in-referencing.

Forgotten concept

On sides 3 and 4, Seven Seas Symphony, With All Nations and finale The British Opera attempt, like some remonstrative baton-tapping conductor, to restore some semblance of over-arching order.  We’ve probably forgotten whatever concept there was by then anyway and perhaps that’s the point – the lushness, the grandiosity, the sheer sumptuous magnificence and the emotions conveyed – are the concept.

At times, Odessa barely feels like a rock album at all, not even a rock opera album.  The title track is almost devoid of conventional pop/rock elements and the theatrical Lamplight luxuriates in conservatism.

Magisterial

One thing hugely in the album’s favour is that, although epic and magisterial, only rarely is Odessa pompous (the choral/instrumental tracks and then knowingly so) and never is it dull.  The whole edifice hangs together with a certain strange splendour.

Far from fading with passing years, time has actually lent that red velvet a lustre in the eyes of fans and critics it never acquired at the time. Only now can Odessa’s unique delights take their place alongside the great albums of a great year in rock.


Odessa [1969]

Side 1
Odessa (City on the Black Sea)
You’ll Never See My Face Again
Black Diamond

Side 2
Marley Purt Drive
Edison
Melody Fair
Suddenly
Whisper, Whisper

Side 3
Lamplight
Sound of Love
Give Your Best
Seven Seas Symphony
With All Nations (International Anthem)

Side 4
I Laugh In Your Face
Never Say Never Again
First Of May
The British Opera


Singles 1969 [related to Odessa]

First Of May
Lamplight

Tomorrow, Tomorrow
Sun In My Morning


Unreleased 1969

Nobody’s Someone
Pity

* released on Odessa Rhino reissue, 2009


-> Two Years On
<- Idea

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

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Carole Bayer Sager

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Well hello again, good old friend of mine…

Some albums seem to follow you around as if they have chosen you rather than you them.  When you’re asked “What kind of music do you like?” they don’t leap to the front of the queue, indeed they’re more likely shrink to the back, tail between legs.  The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ springs to mind.

The album which exemplifies this for me is Carole Bayer Sager’s 1977 eponymous LP.  I can never quite embrace it, there’s some unaccountable resistance on my part.  Yet I feel it embraces me.

Constant companion

Carole Bayer Sager has always been there for me through thick and thin.  I don’t read anything especially profound into the songs and there are no hidden layers of meaning.  Maybe the album is a kind of comfort blanket.  The opening and closing tracks, Come In From the Rain and Home to Myself,  certainly encourage this.

Carole sings to me only when no one else is around.  That’s partly born out of necessity yet it’s given the album a kind of intimacy like no other.

I’ll play it when I’m preparing dinner.  The ritual is familiar: uncork to Come In From the Rain, chop vegetables Until the Next Time, pasta in the pan to Sweet Alibis – dig that guitar break – and singing along to all ten tracks bar one: I’ve never enjoyed the chugging, discolite Don’t Wish Too Hard.

I actually like her voice, it never grates.  I hear a cooing little girl and a cracked, mature woman in one.  On her later albums her voice has ‘improved’ but her personality and charm is diminished.

The other Carole

The songs are mostly piano based and I’d long assumed that it was Carole at the keyboard aka Carole King.  So it came as a surprise to learn that this is not the case.

Perhaps I wanted to hear the album as a kind of singer-songwriter confessional.  If you had no idea who Carole Bayer Sager was (and is) and simply play the album, it does work that way.  She never attempted a Carole King style reinvention and 1977 was a little late to board the singer-songwriter bandwagon.  Bayer-Sager lacks King’s woody soulfulness and her themes are too resolutely romantic unless you want to posit You’re Moving Out Today as social commentary.

On examining the writing credits, the other discovery I made was that all the songs are co-written – with Melissa Manchester, Johnny Vastanao, Marvin Hamlisch, Bruce Roberts and Bette Midler.  Perhaps this belies the singularity of the album’s title.  Bayer-Sager is described as a lyricist before she is described as a songwriter and I’ve found it impossible to ascertain the division of labour.

So somewhat disavowed of my romanticism, I see that the album is essentially a vehicle for a highly successful, mainstream writer to showcase her compositions with a little help from her friends.  Which does nothing to curtail my enjoyment.

Oh Carole!

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Carole Bayer Sager, whilst likable and well crafted, isn’t sophisticated or cool.  The best of her work is perhaps seen as on a par with post-prime Bacharach (there’s a wonderfully indiscreet tale about how their marriage ended in her recently published autobiography – the woman has the driest sense of humour).

She moves into boring, international AOR territory with the 80s and 90s and the personality is lost.  Yet I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love is a fine song from a singular standpoint.  Try Dusty Springfield‘s version if you find Carole’s just a tad too croaky.

I’m playing her song

It was the ’77 novelty (let’s call it that) hit You’re Moving Out Today which drew me to the album when I pulled it out of some long forgotten early 90s bargain bin.  The song is untypical – overtly humorous and uptempo with a slightly 20s feel.  It evokes the affluent, liberal lifestyle of mid 70s LA more strongly than any other I know – the kookiness, the kinkiness, the Tales of the City  bedhopping lifestyle.

I suspect that it might be co-writer Bette Midler who provided the rubber hose, funny cigarettes and leaky water bed.  The lyrics are daft yet I would be hard pushed to say they are good in a formal sense.  They’re clever but undeniably cheesy.  Who can resist the abandon of ‘pack up your rubber duck, I’d like to wish you luck’?  It’s this unabashed quirkiness which is so missing from her second and third solo albums.  They’re bland but it doesn’t matter.  She isn’t the kind of artist where you need to take on the complete works.

Home to myself

When I moved house last year there came several occasions over a period of months when I observed the new place feeling like my own, as if I were sinking comfortably into it.

One was when I played Carole Bayer Sager for the first time.  Doing so breathed a kind of warm, easy familiarity into the air.  I uncorked the Merlot and poured myself a glass.  Comin’ home to myself again.

It’s taken twenty-five years but Carole, I embrace you.

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Another Cold and Windy Day

Another Cold and Windy Day may have been only a promotional piece for Coke but it bares all the hallmarks of the Bee Gees’ melodic melancholia at its best (let’s, for the moment, overlook the small matter of the chorus lyrics: ‘Things go better with Coca Cola’).  It’s surprising that the drinks’ manufacturer wanted to link their product to such a sad, introverted little piece even if it does market Coke as some kind of panacea for Winter depression.

Hearing Another Cold and Windy Day makes me realise it’s this melancholic quality – plentiful on Horizontal – which is what’s missing from Side 1 of Idea.  I’d substitute Robin’s somewhat flat ballad In the Summer of His Years for a deCoked Another Cold and Windy Day any day.

Given the song’s likely recording date of late 1967/early 1968, I’m surprised to find Rhino filed it  under their Idea rerelease.  It’s overall sound – harpsichord, cellos – suggests a Horizontal sensibility.

Bee Gees – Idea

The first Bee Gees album which fails to satisfy yet two of their all-time killer songs are to be found here.

Unlike its late 60s counterparts, Idea lacks coherency.  1st fizzes with quirky likeability, Horizontal explores new territories and Odessa luxuriates in ambitious orchestral grandeur.  But Idea?  Well what was the idea apart from producing another outlet for Bee Gees’ songs?  Probably just that.  Given the pace at which the brothers were working at the time, it’s not surprising that about half of Idea sounds like set aside material.

Two sided

Idea is an album of two sides in more than just the literal sense.

Side One is largely content to tread water.  We have the swooning, overly lush concoction Let There Be Love (though wonderful sostenuto vocals), the folk/country-lite of Kitty Can, a heartfelt though merely pleasant ballad from Robin (In the Summer of His Years – in memory of Brian Epstein) and the enjoyable while it lasts Indian Gin and Whiskey DryDown to Earth is hugely promising but criminally under-developed (did David Bowie ever hear it?).  Vince gets his sole bite of the cherry on Such a Shame but his guitar and harmonica outing is little more than an enjoyable diversion.

There’s nothing that’s bad here, just little that’s inspiring.

Bright Ideas

But then it all kicks off with the pent-up restlessness of Idea (or the top notch soul of I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You if you’re listening to the US or South African Idea) building to the magisterial humility of I Started a Joke and the dignified finale Swan Song which is Where the Swallows Fly without the hyperbole.  Along the way, the understated Kilburn Towers provides a delightfully whimsical digression.

So what you’re left with is the deceptive feeling of a Bee Gees album as good as any other – in fact one which includes two stellar classics in I’ve Gotta get a Message to You and I Started a Joke – because by the album’s close, the far superior second half has so thoroughly eclipsed the memory of the somewhat ordinary first.


Idea [1968]

Side 1
Let There Be Love

Kitty Can
In the Summer of His Years
Indian Gin and Whiskey Dry
Down to Earth
Such a Shame
I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You*

Side 2
Idea
When the Swallows Fly
I Have Decided To Join the Air Force
I Started a Joke
Kilburn Towers
Swan Song

* US/South African LP version only


Singles 1968 [related to Idea]

Jumbo
The Singer Sang His Song

I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You
Kitty Can

I Started a Joke
Kilburn Towers


Unreleased 1968

Chocolate Symphony*
Bridge Crossing Rivers*
Completely Unoriginal*
Come Some Christmas Eve or Halloween*
Gena’s Theme*
Another Cold and Windy Day (Coke Spot #1)*
Sitting in the Meadow (Coke Spot #2)*

* released on Idea Rhino reissue, 2006


-> Odessa
<- Horizontal

 

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Nestles’ animal bar

 

These friendly animals used to adorn the paper wrappings of Nestles’ Animal bars in the early 70s.  I have a feeling there was also a dog and a monkey maybe others.

I obviously liked them enough to cut out and keep.

The actual chocolate was fairly slender.

Bee Gees – Horizontal

The declamatory opening bars of World hammer home the psychedelia of Horizontal but it’s less quirky than on Bee Gees 1st and decidedly heavier too.  The band stray into interesting new territories such as chanson, Really and Sincerely, and blues rock, The Change Is Made.

Some of 1st‘s wayward edges have been ironed out so that Horizontal has a more settled, consolidated feel.  The song-writing is solid, sometimes inspired, and they convince across the range.  Surprisingly, instead of expanding the soul repertoire of 1st it’s pretty much abandoned here.

The depressed album

Often labelled the Bee Gees’ depressed album, Horizontal has a remarkable coherency.  

I find the flow of Side 1 the most satisfying in their back catalogue; as one song fades you can’t wait for the next because you feel a growing confidence in their hands.  Really and Sincerely somehow manages to build upon the emotion of And the Sun Will Shine. Between those two highs Lemons Never Forget provides some necessary acidity and channels the Beatles less slavishly than In My Own Time whilst the wistful, subtly playful Birdie takes the emotional impact down a few notches just when needed.  Side 1’s spinoff, Barry‘s spotlight centre stage solo With the Sun in My Eyes, envelopes you in love’s warm glow.

Side 2 is the lesser, lumbered as it is with the resolutely mainstream Massachusetts but the final three tracks intrigue, hinting at an alternative more rock oriented Bee Gees, an option which the band would only occasionally take up.

As for the depression, it’s there but Horizontal is by no means a depressing listen.  Yes, there is bitterness – The Change Is Made – and queasy otherworldliness – Horizontal – but the eye opening World is breathtaking as well as post-traumatic and the painfully naked Really and Sincerely ultimately cathartic.

Truly lush

Crucially, they show their prettier side without just layering on the strings.  Birdie is truly lush thanks to Vince’s warm guitar licks and regret beautifully poised on Day Time Girl, the album’s dark horse and one of their finest ballads.  Both have terrific chord modulations and lovely melodies.

Bee Gees 1st is a fresher, more diverting album but Horizontal the more satisfying. 


Horizontal [1968]

Side 1
World
And the Sun Will Shine
Lemons Never Forget
Really and Sincerely
Birdie Told Me
With The Sun In My Eyes

Side 2
Massachusetts
Harry Braff
Day Time Girl
The Ernest Of Being George
The Change Is Made
Horizontal


Singles 1967/68 [related to Horizontal]

Massachusetts
Barker of the UFO

World
Sir Geoffrey Saved the World

Words*
Sinking Ships

* Words, a non-album track, was recorded the same day as World (3rd October 1967) and so in that sense can be said to be Horizontal-related 


Unreleased 1968

Out of Line*
Ring My Bell*
Mrs Gillespie’s Refridgerator*
Deeply, Deeply Me*
All My Christmases Came at Once*
Thank You for Christmas*
Medley: Silent Night/Hark the Herald Angels Sing*

* released on Horizontal Rhino reissue, 2006


-> Idea
<- Bee Gees 1st


Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Why I’ve a problem with “No problem!”

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OK, here comes this year’s silly season, apropos nothing, totally off-the-wall post.

Fly in the soup

At a restaurant not long ago, my friend and I were served by a waitress who was both able and pleasant.  The only fly in the soup was that in response to everything – and I do mean everything – we said or even in response to nothing at all, she would say “No problem!”

“Do you have a table please?“ – “No problem!”
“That’s great, thanks” (upon being shown to our table) – “No problem!”
“Thank you” (for setting the table) – “No problem!”
“Ah, we haven’t quite decided yet…” – “No problem!”

And so it went on.  Each course arrived “No problem!” as did the wine and tap water and I think she might even have said “No problem!” as we exited through the doors.

Pat little phrase

Anything repeated ad nauseum becomes annoying but hearing this pat little phrase perhaps two dozen times (well it felt like it) over two hours brought home how it’s become the de rigeur, catch all response of our times.

Every era has one.  Which swinging 60s film has the young female lead repeating a bemused, bedazzled “Super!”?  Then there’s the hippy era’s “Groovy!” even if perhaps mostly in mythology.

Ours is not ‘Perfect!’ as proposed by a New Statesman columnist recently but this problematic little proposition.

Problem solving

So why do I have a problem with no problem?  Because why would there be a problem?  We were in a restaurant doing what people do, following the etiquette, enjoying our food, paying the bill, leaving a tip and the waitress was doing her job.  Why would we need multiple, ongoing confirmations that there isn’t a problem?

I suppose it’s trying to say “Nothing is too much trouble” except I don’t hear it like that.  “No problem!” is like the lesser relative of EastEnders’ bully boy Phil Mitchell’s “You got a problem?”  The phrase comes tainted with latent aggression.  It implies that the graciousness of declaring all is well is entirely the prerogative of the no-problemer.  It takes back power, is designed to induce unease.  It’s saying: I don’t have a problem with you right now, but If that changes you’ll soon know about it.

So please may we dispense with this robotic, passively aggressive patois?

How about adopting the charming and embracing “Prego!” (“You’re welcome!”) of Italian restaurants?  I’d have no problem with that.