No. 9 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72
By Robin & Barry Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry
Album Bee Gees’ 1st 1967
Embed from Getty Images
“Rainbows all the time, we’re all going higher”
A swirling kaleidoscope of children’s storytime memories, this transport of delight probably marks the high watermark of the psychedelic Bee Gees, at least in the 1967 sense of psychedelic. I know many crown Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You with that accolade but for me, it tries a little too hard to be weird. Red Chair Fade Away is the more accomplished piece and also a more enjoyable one for actually being about something.
The emphasis is not so much on the cosiness of grandpa’s fireside storytelling as the strange and wonderful worlds he evokes. The storyteller’s red chair vanishes and the old man takes his wide-eyed young audience on a miraculous journey.
Barry’s line ‘I can feel the speaking sky, I don’t want to know…’ possibly relates to the voice of God-like parents recalling the children from these rainbow worlds, back to reality and responsibility. The repeated chorus refrain – ‘Red chair fade away!’ – can be heard as a child’s command to be whisked away into fantasy before this can happen.
Pitch bends, bleats and beats
As with the strangest or most lyrically outlandish of the Bee Gees’ songs, a strong melody prevails. Here it eventually disintegrates amidst repeated chants of ‘red chair fade away’ to flutes, ‘cellos and what sound like bleating goats (was grandpa’s story The Three Billy Goats Gruff, perhaps?) Assuming the bleats to have been added sound effects, upon reading Andrew Sandoval’s Bee Gees: The Day-By-Day Story, I was astonished to learn that these bizarre sounds are courtesy of Robin!*
Phil Dennys turns in a more adventurous arrangement than Bill Shepherd might have done, adding greatly to the mood of enchantment. It’s a shame his talents were not heard more often on Bee Gees’ recordings.
Maurice supplies some terrific mellotron pitch bends and Colin’s drums sound particularly incisive.
The ‘fragrant lemon trees’ are announced by a piccolo passage which hints at Indian or Middle Eastern exotica; this sounds rather naff put down in black-and-white but works well within the context of the song.
A key structural element is the shift from 3/4 to 4/4 time occuring not at the expected place – the start of the chorus – but four bars before that – ‘I don’t want to know…’. This slides an unexpected transition beneath the song, enhancing its mood of sly playfulness. And at that precise point, the additional beat also creates a momentary feeling of time slowing down, a generosity absolutely at one with the languidly defiant lyric.
It’s worth pointing out that the basic track was laid down on 7th March 1967 and the song was very possibly written on the ship to England some two months earlier. Red Chair Fadeaway might not be Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds but it does show how in touch with the zeitgeist the band were at this time.
With its childhood concerns and taste for the exotic, Red Chair, Fade Away marks a notable contribution to classic English psychedelia.
* Andrew Sandoval, Bee Gees: The Day-by-Day Story, 1945-1972, (2012), page 25