Paul Jones: And the Sun Will Shine

Reminded of another Bee Gees’ cover version thanks to this morning’s Sounds of the 60sPaul Jones’ 1968 single A-side And the Sun Will Shine.

This is one of my favourite Gibb compositions with a unique emotional atmosphere – when performed by the brothers.

Unfortunately, despite boasting an A-list line-up of Paul McCartney on drums, Jeff Beck on guitar, Paul Samwell-Smith on bass and Nicky Hopkins on keyboards there isn’t much of an emotional atmosphere to be had here, except a rather over-egged febrile one.

After a nice hymnal introduction, Peter Asher’s production neither enhances the song nor shows off the talents of its musicians.  Paul Jones’ commanding voice conveys an unwarranted urgency better suited to his messianic Privilege role.  The verses are needlessly shortened to the song’s detriment.  Overall it’s a messy mish-mash which surely pleased no one (the single wasn’t a hit).

Better head for the B-side, Paul Jones’ own song The Dog Presides if it’s stellar blues rock you’re after or for the definitive version of a fine song, the Bee Gees’ own on Horizontal.

Followers of  Bee Gees Top 50 Songs 1966-72  may have correctly guessed that And the Sun Will Shine will make a highly placed appearance before too long!

Have a good Easter weekend.

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Really and Sincerely

No. 7 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72

By Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Robin
Album Horizontal 1968


Embed from Getty Images

 

“Love is so easy to lose”

By fateful coinicidence, on this Good Friday I land upon a song which resonates with themes of Easter – the redeeming power of abiding love in the face of death and near death.

Robin Gibb and his future wife Molly were involved in the Hither Green train disaster of 1967 which killed over forty people and left many others injured. The south London crash, especially the carnage which followed in its wake, left a lasting impression on Robin and Really and Sincerely came out of his brush with death.

Life’s embrace

When I first heard this song it did not greatly appeal to me.  It seemed to interrupt the flow of Horizontal and such pained intensity made for slightly uncomfortable listening.  Perhaps it was reading about the circumstances which inspired Really and Sincerely or living not far from Hither Green myself which prompted me to listen again.

Now I could feel the song’s vulnerability, its passion.  What had seemed at first like overexposed rawness was now humble gratitude in the face of deliverance and a plea for life’s embrace.

Robin’s voice, so utterly unlike any other in or outside of popular music has a passionate directness which combines pain and joy.  He can sound both fragile and intense at the same time.

Existential meditation

Really and Sincerely uses a chanson sensibility to convey a lonely existential meditation.  In its wintry verses accompanied by plaintive piano accordion and ‘cello, Robin strains for something seemingly unobtainable.  The lyrics speak of an unbearable but unnamed Really & Sincerelyseparation: ‘I’m on the other side, though you remember my name’.  This, I would imagine, is his survivor’s guilt or, more specifically, a speculation that he might so easily have lost Molly that day.

Then the suspended tension of the verse gives way to a more easeful chorus – ‘Turn me down’ – with its warm horns and the relief of strings.  Chastened, at last Robin achieves the longed for sense of connection and gratitude.  The chorus culminates with the simple, humble ‘really and sincerely I’ve tried’ but the song’s essence is to be found in the line: ‘Love is so easy to lose’.

Prayerful passion

I love Really and Sincerely and wonder how I could not have done so from the start.  Far from interrupting the album, it seems to flow from And the Sun Will Shine, taking that song’s intensity to another level.  Really and Sincerely adds depth and vulnerability to Horizontal and I can’t imagine the album without it (interesting that it was the last song to be recorded).

The title is taking a risk in itself, giving the song something to live up to.  This passionately prayerful piece does not fall short.

 

No 6 Gilbert Green
No 8 Odessa (City on the Black Sea)

Soldier and Me: incredible afterthoughts

Soldier and MeHaving watched Soldier and Me again (my second and inevitably more critical DVD viewing) a friend and I spotted a few slightly incredible aspects to the plot.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say they’re holes, just unlikely though quite endearing coincidences.

Given that the chase covers such a wide area both in Stockport and across the Lake District, it’s highly improbable that Jim and Pavel’s pursuers could have kept such a near constant tab on them.   The boys are out of reach yet curiously close at hand.

The most unlikely moment of all is Smiler boarding the same train out of town and turning up in the same carriage.  His face emerging from behind a newspaper is a great ‘reveal’ moment until you stop to think about how it could have come about.

In a curious way, the ‘never too far away’ chase does fit in with Jim’s diminished, city-boy notions of the vast Lake District – if you head for a farm near a lake it’s bound to be Nichol’s farm.

Still, where would thrillers be without coincidences?  It’s all exciting stuff especially when viewed through my ten year old – rather than 50-something – eyes.

Soldier and Me review

The Sound of George Martin

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George Martin, 1965

 

Yesterday’s string quartet and the ambitious, skewed arrangement of I am the Walrus might be held up as among the pinnacles of George Martin’s contributions to The Beatles’ sound.

But I think it’s in the smallest of his additions that his presence is perhaps most keenly felt, the way he introduces a particular instrument at a particular point for a particular purpose.

Immaculate precision

The half-speed piano of In My Life and For No One’s French horn solo are good examples.  Each shows imagination, economy and immaculate precision, a combination which is characteristically his, applied with the same skill as an artist might select a specific hue and use it just so, subtly at this point, so as to assist the entire painting but without drawing attention to itself.  Both clavichord-like piano and French horn arrive, say what they have to say and leave.  Both show deference, a quality in short supply in pop and rock.

George’s contributions are as integral to both songs as the voices of Lennon and McCartney themselves, his instrumental solos so ideally realised as to be the placement of another voice.  The solos very much stand alone – it’s not hard to imagine piano and French horn silenced for the duration – yet the songs are incomprehensible without them.

Discreet flamboyance

Often George Martin’s inspirations were classical, unsurprising given his background.   Whilst he added a ‘trained’ element, his ideas were not overly refined.  That he was able to introduce classical elements without them seeming at all grafted or imposed is testament to his great skill.  Of course he was fortunate to have as George Martinhis framework the consummate songwriting of Lennon-McCartney.  Martin’s choices are surprising, daring even but are always (just like Ringo’s drumming) in service of the song.

Yet both the examples I mentioned above work against the overall tenor of the songs; the discreetly flamboyant clavichord of In My Life is almost jaunty* amidst such ‘sighing introspection’ (as Iain MacDonald so perfectly puts it) whilst For No One’s French horn seems removed from the unfolding chamber tragedy.

This is also what makes George Martin’s contributions so great, not merely their understated elegance but their refusal to add an overt emotionalism which would have been out of keeping with the anti-romanticism of The Beatles.  He steadfastly avoided both the obvious and the lush (Something comes closest but remains adept, apt and justified).

Is Sir George’s influence still heard in music today?  I leave that for others to comment upon.

*though it does, to my ears, suggest a kind of rapid flick through life’s back pages or an old film reel spinning by in under twenty seconds.

Sir George Martin:  3rd January 1926 – 8th March 2016.

 

Take Three Songs… by Cilla Black

Odessa (City on the Black Sea)

No. 8 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72

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


“Can’t seem to leave the sea anymore”

Odessa (City on the Black Sea) is a song about the survivor of the fictitious British ship ‘Veronica’, floating on an iceberg in the Baltic Sea… or is it?

We are told that ‘Captain Richardson left himself a lonely wife in Hull’ and that she finds solace in the vicar’s prayers.  Yet references to ‘sailing around in the North Atlantic’, moving to Finland and indeed to Odessa itself, on the face of it, obscure a coherent story.  Yes the geography is vague but it doesn’t matter.  It’s the very lostness of Odessa which gives the song its power.

Heartbroken loneliness

Odessa is essentially about a heartbroken loneliness which seems to stretch on forever.  The story is told ostensibly from the Captain’s point of view but at times it’s as if he is almost able to somehow see or, at least, imagine, the life now led by his wife back home.  He claims ‘you love the vicar more than words can say’ and he appears to know about the neighbours who ‘haven’t got their dog anymore’.  These seem like speculations born out of longing or it’s as if his love Odessais so strong that it is able to sense his wife at so great a distance.   I think this gives ‘Odessa’ a kind of subtle, ambivalent yet piercing quality which hints at the psychic without ever making it explicit.

Cold gaze of history

Yet perhaps the true point of view is not any one person’s but the cold gaze of history and of fate itself.  The identical lyrical bookending of the song emphasises this – ‘Fourteenth of February, eighteen ninety nine, The British ship Veronica was lost without a sign’.  It ends just as fatefully as it began.

To label Odessa a mere ‘song’ seems too modest given its obvious ambitiousness, orchestral grandeur and deployment of integral extended instrumental passages, not to mention its unprecedented Odessa coverlength (7.33).

Everything about the way in which the listener approaches Odessa reinforces this sense of the epic.  It is the first and title track on the Bee Gees’ first (and only) double-album, a lavish gatefold sleeved affair bearing gold embossed lettering upon red flock velvet.  An opening stereo sweep and intoned narrative chant immediately signal a new direction.  ‘Odessa’ is the Bee Gees flexing their songwriting prowess and responding to the progressive mood of the times.

Yet they don’t try to emulate what others were doing.  In its songcraft, melody, emotionality and lyrical weirdness, Odessa is quintessential Bee Gees through and through yet it stands as the highpoint of their early period baroque ambitions – a poetic, progressive yet steadfastly ‘unrock’ quasi-operatic magnum opus.

Tide of strings

The orchestration is lush and the overall sound expansive but the arrangement remains both sensitive and original.  The highly unusual combination of Maurice’s flamenco guitar and Paul Buckmaster’s sturdy ‘cello are central.  Tinkling, heavily reverbed piano and harp glissandi seem to almost fade away like seaspray in sunshine and there are nice touches like a lost misty flute near the close (or is that Maurice’s mellotron?).  Vocal harmonies wail and then soar majestically during the slow choruses against a tide of strings.

Attention is paid to detail such as Robin’s drier vocal during verse two with its ‘neighbours’ lyric so that the breakout into the heavily reverbed widescreen ‘Odessa’ chorus is allowed full emotional impact.  It is as if the Captain has broken out of a futile attempt at homely reassurance to reveal his inner desperation: ‘Odessa, how strong am I?’

Another nice detail: ‘Russian’ bass chants are introduced only in the lead-up to the song’s close as if to emphasise the story ending on a grave note.

Ghostly, siren clarity

When you hear the mono demo version, (made available with the Rhino re-issue) the bones of the song are laid bare.  Yet even with a much reduced orchestra it possesses that beguiling emotional spell.  Vocals take centre stage carried by mellotron and acoustic guitar.  Odessa2Contrasting ‘cello/guitar passages provide an understated maritime mood.  The overall feel is sparser, looser, more organic, the tempo seems less rigid, the pace slower, statelier.  Without the orchestra, the emotional effect is one of unadorned, aching loneliness, more akin to one of Robin’s vignettes.  The melodrama and cinematic sweep have gone and the emotional heart is exposed.

There are several ways in which the finished second version definitely improves upon the original, notably in the opening and closing passages.  In the first version, the words are quietly spoken by Maurice whereas in the second version they are intoned, with ghostly, siren clarity, by Robin.  And the words themselves have been amended to create a more lyrical feel.  The timpani of the first version (cannon fire?) is gone from the second.   Timpani struck me as a little too abrupt for the mood of the song.

What the first version doesn’t show is that Odessa started life as a three minute verse-chorus song, later dressed up in a flamboyant orchestral costume.  Structurally the ‘cello/flamenco passages are crucial and are there from the start.  Narratively, the opening and closing passages are integral.  You can’t just begin ‘Odessa’ a bar or two before ‘Cherub…’, it wouldn’t make sense.

Dramatic flourish

I love the dramatic flourish of the album track but I also love the fragile intimacy of the Odessa ‘sketch’.  Forced to choose between the two, I’d opt for the second version because it’s the finished one and because that’s the one which made it onto the album.  And I wouldn’t want not to hear the magnificence of the finished opus again.

‘Odessa’ makes for an interesting comparison with Procol Harum’s ‘A Salty Dog’, another ambitious masterpiece released the same year also charting an emotional journey through maritime imagery.

No 7 Really and Sincerely
No 9 Red Chair Fade Away