No. 14 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72
By Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb
Lead Vocals: Barry, Robin & Maurice
Album: Trafalgar 1971
Single B-side 1971
“My name could be Napoleon”
The only song on Trafalgar credited to all three brothers, Walking Back to Waterloo is the discrete companion piece to Maurice’s Trafalgar. Both songs are slow paced with choruses conveying a broad, romantic scope enhanced by orchestral strings.
Walking Back to Waterloo takes the alienation of Trafalgar one step further so that we are dealing with displacement in time as well as place. A sense of inner vision and determination drives our lonely figure on in search of what is ‘beautiful but hard to find’. The verse vocals, shared by Barry and Robin, convey sensitivity but also frustration and anguish particularly in the convention defying verse ‘What is life…’ sung by Barry.
Out of time
I don’t know how much input Robin had into the lyrics but I wonder if what we are hearing is his idiosyncratic conservatism and love of history manifesting as an affinity for a man who exists out of time and in an unheroic age. He yearns for ‘another time when people sang and poems rhymed’ and declares ‘I still place my trust in the Queen’. The song’s very title suggests a character with his back set against the world, searching for his place within the scheme of things. It’s a sense of displacement felt by our man feeding pigeons in Trafalgar too. His consolation here seems to be that if you play along you can ‘get a good seat at the end’ but that sounds like small change. The song charts his quest for meaning – ‘There must be more we haven’t seen’ – but the sonority of the final, prolonged, inward-looking minor chord tells us no answer is forthcoming.
Far from being bleak, Walking Back to Waterloo is ultimately about human struggle, endeavour and a kind of heroicism. It’s the most life affirming song on Trafalgar and, as the final track, gives the album the gravitas it’s been striving for.