Cold Be My Days

No. 26 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72

By Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Robin
Recording: 1970 [Robin – Sing Slowly Sisters solo project: unreleased*]

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“Fresh farmer’s milk that never turns sour”

Robin began work on what became known as his Sing Slowly Sisters sessions in early January 1970.  With its lyrical invocations of the quiet English countryside, Cold Be My Days could be his contribution to the ‘back to nature’ vibe of early that year.

As the ’60s party ended, many of rock’s cognoscenti took to the hills as if in self-imposed exile, Paul McCartney not least among them.  The mood was of reconnecting with self and with nature following indulgence and excess.  Robin’s exile was not out of choice and was more about immersing himself in the freedom of composition than it was literally taking flight.  Not for him the homely rural Ram, the cystalline purity of Another Diamond Day or the warm Celtic-rock of Open Road; Sing Slowly Sisters is a collection of unfettered loneliness, loss and longing born in the refuge of his own home.  Possibly Robin was listening to Fairport Convention or any number of rare, semi-forgotten ‘mixed up minds’ 45s which peppered the turn of the decade as thereCold be My Days byline 2 is something of that mood here.

Although tinged with a peculiarly English melancholia, ‘Cold Be My Days’ also allows in much light and contentment.  The song records with fondness Robin’s days of horse-riding with Barry and Molly, his first wife.  Uncharacteristically, it is written not from the viewpoint of backward-looking regret but entirely in the present tense.  With its constant rousing returns to ‘Shipston-On-Stour’ you can hear him rejoicing in the place.

English folk song

At over six minutes, Cold Be My Days is one of Robin’s longest songs, extending its old English folk song sensibility by way of some pleasing classical-type variations on the melody, almost evoking ‘call and response’ in a  couple of places.  String quartet and (later) harpsichord evoke an atmosphere of pastoral bliss.  You can see the dew soaked cobwebs, feel your breath dissolve into the frosty air.

Nature features surprisingly rarely in Bee Gees’ songs.  Here, though, Robin furnishes some of his loveliest and most pictorial lyrics – ‘Warm be the air on a wet afternoon’, ‘Damp be the dew on a long summer’s night’.  The line ‘I work my fingers to the bone’ is especially touching because he obviously loves that too.

‘Cold Be My Days’ is full of tenderness but not the over-sweetness which characterises Barry’s 1970 offerings on Cucumber Castle.  Only the scratchiness of the surviving recording detracts from an altogether memorable and charming piece.

∗ subsequently released 1st June 2015

Saved by the Bell: the Collected Works of Robin Gibb: 1969/70

No 25 Idea
No 27 The Sound of Love


Magic Colors of Lesley Gore

Lesley Gore Magic ColorsThere is much more to Lesley Gore than her defiant party-piece.  Take ‘feminist anthem’ You Don’t Own Me, or Sometimes I Wish I Were a Boy, both 1964 singles.  The titles alone imply an unconventionality born not just out of being a woman in a notoriously male dominated business but also Lesley as both Jewish and gay (she came out in 2005).

I was intrigued to find out how Lesley Gore responded to the changing musical and social climate of the late 60s.  The answer lies within Magic Colors: The Lost Album [Ace CDCHD 1307] a 2011 release which gathers together material from 1967-69 (though it’s worth mentioning that all 25 tracks have been previously released, many as singles, some as part of a 1994 box-set).

Lesley Gore needed a new sound in 1967 and found it in California Nights, a surf-pop-soul blend shot through with sunshine pop written by Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Liebling and produced by Bob Crewe.  It reached No 16 in the US.  Lesley gives an endearing lip-synching performance of ‘California Nights’ as Pusseycat in Batman.

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Music in colours

The follow-up Summer and Sandy distils California Nights heady ingredients still further thanks to ssshing waves, mandolin-like beach guitars and lyrics extolling ‘salty air and harbour lights on lazy summer’s nights – top down, beach bound’.  Despite the effervescent pzazz, to an ever more psychedelically switched-on audience, Summer and Sandy would have felt stranded in the girl group era.  Those wooh! wooh! vocals give the game away.  It’s strange and incredibly unfair that with a male vocal, such a song would become surfer-pop almost by default but with a female vocal – and given Lesley’s back catalogue – Summer and Sandy might as likely be dismissed as a girl-group throwback.  Anyhow, heard several decades on it’s the carefree vibe of these records which is their greatest appeal.  Summer and Sandy reached No. 76 on Billboard in 1967, underlining Lesley’s dwindling chart success.

Follow-up to ‘Summer and Sandy’, Brink of Disaster (co-written by Bread-to-be member James Griffin along with Michael Gordon) comes with another elaborate production and some ear-catching voice-of-conscience vocals but wasn’t up to the standard of Summer and Sandy.  It reached No 82.

During August and October 1967, Lesley recorded a number of songs, some of which became singles but an intended album, Magic Colors, never materialised.  The Ace compilation, to which Magic Colors lends its name, offers an imaginary sequence of the album across its first ten tracks, with the running order chosen ‘for optimum listening pleasure’.

Aside from Summer and Sandy and Brink of Disaster, the highlights for me are the youthful excitement of Mann and Weil’s opener It’s a Happening World (a B-side for Lesley but a hit for The Tokens) with its nod to Feelin’ Groovy;  Magic Colors (perhaps as close as Neil Sedaka got to ‘psychedelic’), Teddy Randazzo’s ‘You Sent Me Silver Bells’ (dating from 1966 but not released until 1969) and Eric Woolfson and John Carter’s faltering He Won’t See the Light.  All are enhanced by the renowned musicianship of LA’s Wrecking Crew.

The CD release then adds a further fifteen bonus tracks, some of which actually eclipse the first ten making up the imaginary Magic Colors.

Alan Gordon and Garry Bonnor achieved great success in penning She’d Rather Be With Me and the evergreen Happy Together for The Turtles.  Although their Small Talk failed to chart for Lesley in 1968, they recapture the feel good mood of those earlier singles.

With its easy beat and overlapping soft harmonies (nice use of brass too) it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Say What You See included on Bread’s first album (it was co-written by Rob Royer).

Lesley tries her hand at Laura Nyro-style ever changing time, tempo and dynamics in self-penned Ride a Tall White Horse (with brother Michael on piano) and there are three Gamble and Huff productions of which Look the Other Way is especially good, its full sound underscored with harpsichord and sax, some tell-tale cymbal work and a great lead-off.  This G&H threesome are the most obvious attempt so far to direct Lesley into a more full-blooded soul sound.

As a whole, this collection shows a search for new directions, Lesley trying on different songs for size but never quite arriving at an overall definitive sound to carry her into a new decade.   It’s worth remembering that she was only in her early 20s at the time and her voice, though in fine shape, is so suited to the girl-group sound that she doesn’t quite inhabit a more mature style (though big ballad I Can’t Make It Without You is undeniably arresting).  I’d like to hear To Sir With Love and How Can Be Sure and forget all about Lulu and The Young Rascals but I can’t.

The 70s: Someplace Else Now

Four singles followed in 1970/71 and then 1972 brought the album Someplace Else Now.   With all tracks written or co-written by Lesley and with a stripped down but gospel-soul-pop sound, it feels like this was a more concerted attempt to establish herself as a serious singer-songwriter.

I’ve heard only the unusual, introspective She Said That and The Road I Walk where Lesley’s voice takes on a sometimes Helen Reddy inflection.

In retrospect

Only Summer and Sandy is truly essential here (as is California Nights though this falls just outside the CD’s remit).  Still this welcome compilation allows an overdue  release for a neglected album and sheds light on the lesser known sounds of Lesley Gore’s long career.

Meanwhile, I don’t think there’s much doubt that You Don’t Own Me will lend support to future feminist causes and It’s My Party will accompany many more celebrations to come.

Lesley Gore – 2nd May 1946-16th February 2015.

Track listing

1. It’s a Happening World – (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, 1967)
2. Magic Colors – (Neil Sedaka, Howard Greenfield, 1967)
3. Where Can I Go – (Lesley Gore, Michael Gore, 1968)
4. Brink of Disaster – (Jimmy Griffin, Michael Gordon, 1967)
5. On a Day Like Today – Bodie Chandler, Michael McKendry, 1967)
6. I’m Fallin’ Down – Lesley Gore, Michael Gore, 1967)
7. You Sent Me Silver Bells – Teddy Randazzo, Victoria Pike, 1968)
8. He Won’t See the Light – (Eric Woolfson, John Carter, n/d)
9. How Can I Be Sure – (Felix Caveliere, Edward Brigati, n/d)
10. To Sir With Love – (Mark London, Don Black, n/d)
11. Summer and Sandy – (Bob Crewe, L. Russell Brown, Raymond Bloodworth, 1967)
12. Small Talk – (Alan Gordon, Garry Bonner, 1968)
13. Say What You See – (Tim Hallinan, Robb Royer, 1968)
14. Me Gives Me Love (la la la) (Ramon Arcusa, Manuel De La Calva, Michael Julien, 1968)
15. Brand New Me – (Gary Knight, Francine Nieman, 1968)
16. I Can’t Make It Without You – (Gary Geld, Peter Udell, 1968)
17. Look the Other Way – (Mikki Farrow, Thom Bell, 1968)
18. Take Good Care (of my heart) – Cindy Scott, Mikki Farrow, Thom Bell, 1968)
19. I’ll Be Standing By – (Cindy Scott, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, 1968)
20. Ride a Tall White Horse – (Lesley Gore, Michael Gore, 1969)
21. 98.6/ Lazy Day – (George Fischoff, Tony Powers, 1969)
22. Summer Symphony – (Neil Sedaka, Howard Greenfield, 1969)
23. All Cried Out – (Buddy Kay, Phil Springer, 1969)
24. One By One – Marvin Hamlisch, Howard Liebling, 1969)
25. Wedding Bell Blues – Laura Nyro, 1969)

The Sound of Love

No. 27 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72

By Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry
Album: Odessa 1969

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“And there’s one thing I never found”

A soulful ballad, a little different from anything else on Odessa.

There’s a sense of bedsitter melancholy tipping towards melodrama.  Pounding lower register piano triplets accented by timpani lend a foreboding atmosphere.  A beautiful stranger might be about to walk in through that hall doorway.  Perhaps we’ve wondered into similar territory to Scott Walker’s ‘Montague Terrace in Blue’ or ‘In My Room’.

Sound of Love is a little let down by its lyrics for me.  ‘See the children play the ball’ is one half of an evocative image strait-jacketed by a clunky use of English so as to needlessly track the following ‘See them play along the hall’.   It’s particularly exposed because it’s the opening line.  ‘See the children playing ball’ would have provided a graceful, less attention seeking alternative (though maybe clumsier to sing).  The word ‘clown’ is a bit overplayed in pop and the ‘clown/down’ rhyme does the song no favours.  Neither does ‘See the old man walk the lane, see him walk along in pain, It makes me cry to see them smile’ really make sense.

What ‘Sound of Love’ lacks in lyrical precision it makes up for in emotion and atmosphere.   The song builds effectively through forlorn verses to a yearning chorus.  A sense of mystery clings – ‘Everyone loves the sound of love’ Barry assures us with impassioned repetition while strings tremble expectantly over the word ‘love’ before those piano triplets close in again.

With its innate sense of drama and imminent rescue, ‘Sound of Love’ would have been ideal for Dusty Springfield.

No 26 Cold be My Days
No 28 Black Diamond

Bergen White: For Women Only – tracks 10-18

The third of three posts on Bergen White’s 1970 soft pop album For Women Only.

10. The Bird Song (Bergen White, 2.28) *****

One of the album’s most essential tracks, Bergen’s finest composition comes with a minor key baroque treatment in which to tell its quietly desolate tale.

Bergen doubted that the story would be immediately clear to the listener but a short experiment with a record company executive proved this not to be the case.  From his cell window, a prisoner sees a bird and envies its freedom.  In his mind, the prisoner changes places with the bird in a futile attempt to undo time and save the girlfriend he murdered.

The Bird Song is carried by harpsichord, bass and a small string section.  Bergen’s vocal inventiveness gives us a passage of sobbing vocal, a deathly whisper on ‘her lips so cold’ and the sobering voice of conscience ‘You can’t go back to her, What’s done is done’.Bergen White 10-18 right 1

A superb song and the epitome of baroque pop elegance.

11. Now (Bergen White, 2.38) ****

I think Bergen wanted to be Scott Walker at this point.  Now would not sound at all amiss on Til’ the Band Comes In or perhaps Scott 4.  He almost gets there but despite its fullness of sound, this song feels slightly underwritten and leaves you wanting something more.

Bergen mentions that he was influenced by The Beatles’ orchestral ‘Long and Winding Road’ though ‘Now’ employs a smaller section for its imploring passion: ‘So come home…’

There is an interesting electronic keyboard sound to the fore at the song’s close.

12. It’s Over Now (Bergen White, 3.01) ****

Bergen says hearing this song now annoys him but I like its whip-cracking sense of urgency, organ and fuzz guitar adding to the sense of a fairground ride gone askew.  We are treated to a lovely Beach Boys-like harmony breakdown (’how beautiful the world would be with you’) before the dramatic momentum builds again.

Bergen maintains It’s Over Now ‘started sounding like a Sandy Posey record’ and indeed the song’s roots feel as if they are in the earlier part of the decade (the album was recorded in 1969, but released in 1970).

The CD then adds four tracks recorded in 1967 which fit in extremely well with the feel of For Women Only.  

13. If It’s Not Asking Too Much (Bergen White, 3.03) ****

Like It’s Over Now, the melody of If It’s Not Asking Too Much works through a ‘chart’ of chord progressions which isn’t as contrived as that maybe sounds.  There is a great lead-off.

This is the only track not arranged by Bergen – musician and collaborator Charlie McCoy takes over the reins.

14. Don’t Keep Me Waiting (Bergen White, 3.08) ****

This boasts a great bombastic 60s introduction with piano, timpani, woodblock and some fetching backing vocals.  That strange yet oddly fitting bendy-bass moment takes us into a powerful lead-off.  Bergen’s voice is as good in the lower registers as it is in the high.

15. What Would You Do In My Place (Bergen White, 2.41) *****

Bergen quietly asks for advice or perhaps it’s just a plea for understanding.   This song has a wonderful production, a certain resonance – particularly around the vocals – which gives it an appropriately enclosed feel.

I tend to link this to The Bird Song, perhaps because of the guitar-harpsichord combination or its air of extreme reflection.  Whilst lacking ‘The Bird Song’s narrative, I find something completely involving about this track.  It’s as if we are not just privy to the singer’s inner musings but are actually allowed into the depths of his mind.Bergen White 10-18 right 2

With its arpeggiated guitar and harpsichord splashes, What Would You Do in My Place has an air of understated elegance.  Simpler verses are contrasted with a clambering bridge.

Although different production wise, it’s a shame ‘What Would You Do… ‘ couldn’t find inclusion on the album proper, perhaps replacing its weakest track, Gone Again.

16. House on Bonnie Brae (Denis Linde, 2.00) ***

The mood here is subtly different from the overall feel of For Women Only, being more overtly sentimental, Bergen’s slightly faltering bit-lip vocal set to a lolloping rhythm.  There’s another one of those pleasing counterpoint breakdowns.

17. The Bird Song (Bergen White, mono 2.26) ***** 
18. It’s Over Now (Bergen White, mono 3.03 ) ****

We conclude with tracks 17 and 18 – mono versions of The Bird Song (from 1967) and It’s Over Now from 1970.  The Bird Song in mono benefits from a more prominent vocal.

It’s Over Now

A 1970 gospel-style single Spread the Word sounds nothing like ‘For Women Only’ though a lone 1975 single does; Have You Taken a Good Look Lately by David Gates is pleasant but with perhaps a less ambitious arrangement and a more overtly soft-rock feel at a time when that genre was coalescing around the conventions which made it so derided.

There followed a 1976 Duke of Earl single on Private Stock which I haven’t heard.

Other than that, Bergen White returned to largely conducting and arranging for others, never seeing himself as a singer-performer first and foremost.   Perhaps the most prestigious of his many successes was as arranger for Elvis’s Moody Blue.

Meanwhile, for lovers of baroque pop of a melancholy disposition, For Women Only remains an indispensable crystallisation of a unique vision in sound.

For Women Only: tracks 1-4
For Women Only: tracks 5-9
For Women Only: album overview