No. 18 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72
By Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocals: Barry & Robin
Single A-side, 1967
Album: Horizontal 1968
“And of course it rains everyday”
World crashes us into the Bee Gees’ second album, Horizontal, like a kind of wake-up call. Repetitive bass, pounding piano and percussion are quickly followed by Barry’s starstruck ‘Now I’ve found that the world is round’ vocal paired with ethereal mellotron and piano. This gives way to short-lived wailing electric guitar and percussion. Some superb Beatlesque multi-tracked vocals take over – ‘Living tomorrow, where in the world will I be?’ and then the quietly self-doubting breakdown ‘Or am I needed here?’
In under a minute, several highly contrasting styles are effortlessly stitched together to create a disjointed but dramatically compelling piece which flows beautifully. It’s quite a radical take on the pop single.
World is also significant for being the first appearance on a Bee Gees record of heavily compressed, double-tracked piano, a characteristic element of their late 60s sound.*
Map of the World
I’m sure I read somewhere that the song was conceived as a kind of satire on wide-eyed hippies; the Bee Gees were never very big on flower-power (despite donating so generously to its allied musical genres). This could be the case.
World could also be read as being about someone whose eyes are suddenly opened to the reality of things with defences stripped away, the world crashing into everyday consciousness; certainly an air of disappointment turning into crisis and then bewilderment characterises the song. It suggests some kind of prisoner (literal or of the mind?) who has had an awakening too late and can now only ponder ‘all of the things I have done… all of the times I’ve gone wrong’ and ‘why do they keep me here?’
Or World could simply be about the planet as seen from space (the promo film certainly suggests this).
Whatever the interpretation, World‘s revelation brings discomfort as much as it does clarity and it’s that sense of continuing unease – confusion coupled with moments of clarity – which gives the song much of its power.
Round going round
Despite its inventive, stylistic contrasts, World marks the first instance of the brothers using repetition as a central compositional device such that the song could almost go spinning on and on ad infinitum. It’s maybe something I view a little warily. Repetition was overused to rather tiring effect with weaker ballads on the Two Years On album. Somehow its early appearance here feels significant. Perhaps I’m relating it too much to 1972’s My World, a vastly inferior titular follow-up where repetition is the entire raison-d’etre of the song.
Actually, the circularity of World feels both fresh and integral. With its creative disjunctures and slightly head askance, skewed outlook it’s an arresting album opener. The last two choruses – Robin takes over the vocal before Barry returns for the chorus-to-fade – with their harp, strings and horns perhaps hint at a final release.
A 1967 Top of the Pops performance is one of the standout clips from last year’s The Bee Gees at the BBC… and Beyond.
*if you listen to the albums chronologically, that is, though Lemons Never Forget was recorded before World and Words around the same time.