No. 16 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72
By Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Robin
Recording: 1970 [Robin – Sing Slowly Sisters solo sessions: released 2015]
“I heard some friend say ‘This war won’t last a day'”
The title track of Robin’s 1970 album, (actually, more a series of sessions, as Andrew Sandoval points out) Sing Slowly Sisters is about men leaving to fight World War One, offered encouragement to do so by the women.
In a Radio 4 interview with Peter Paphides marking the re-discovery of this material, Robin tells how it is “important to paint pictures with songs… like making films with music and sound and voice and atmosphere.” The title song succeeds on all those counts.
Sing Slowly Sisters is pure Robin, with its historical setting evoked through a vain attempt to express love in the face of impending doom. Both parties are pawns in a fatalistic game and all they can do is play their parts. By the end of the song, already the men seem ghost-like, effectively absent except as conjured by the women singing.
The chorus melody moves at a constant, stately pace, bordering on the funereal, tied to that repeated exhortation. Only in the imploring – ‘Here are my hands, keep them warm for me, If I rush away don’t turn your head’ – does the pace quicken a little, accompanied by sweeping strings to ‘please be strong’.
It’s hard to believe that this wasn’t written by someone in a mood of intense introspection. In his radio interview, Robin mentions the Hither Green train crash (in which he had been involved three years earlier), recalling how the hospital afterwards was ‘like a war scene.’
Sing Slowly Sisters is sung by a man yet evokes a female perspective on a premonition of mass male death, making the song an act of imaginative and emotional empathy on several levels.
The gap between this and the disco sound of little more than half a decade later is extraordinary and seems utterly irreconcilable.