Swan Song

No. 5 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72

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


“I’m walking off the floor where I belong”

Upon first hearing the Idea album I was more taken by When the Swallows Fly which explores themes not dissimilar to Swan Song.  But Swan Song is altogether more subtle, has greater poignancy and a lovelier melody.  It’s a pretty amazing song for a twenty-one year old to have written.

Swan Song is perhaps slightly chanson in style.  At least, it’s not too difficult to imagine it being sung more overtly in that style and in French (Swan Song was the B-side to I Started a Joke in France).  It’s about someone taking their leave, bowing out of life (or possiblySwan Song a situation or relationship) with grace and poise, ‘walking off the floor where I belong’.

Not so reassuring

The fourths in the verses’ opening vocal line lend a kind of vulnerability or dignity; this song isn’t going to rely on the comfort of major thirds.

After a build in emotional momentum – ‘And if the Lord provides the music…’ –  the ‘castle in the air’ image is wonderfully disarming, placed as it is at the end of a verse whose melody falls on the 7th and so is poised to lead effortlessly into the next verse.

Instrumentation accentuates ideas of an ending – delicate glockenspiel during the introduction and the brief linking passage following verse one, declamatory brass at the start of verse two, the solitary tubular bell before the final chord and a tubular triplet to close.

Weightless poise

The song’s closing vocal –  ‘I loved you well’ repeated three times  –  is heard not against an expectantly reassuring sub-dominant resolving to tonic but (in the home key of G) A minor 7th giving way (if my ears serve me well) to E minor, creating a weightless effect, as if Barry’s final vocal is poised somewhere a little above ground.  Only then sounds the affirmative final string chord.

No 4 To Love Somebody
No 6 Gilbert Green

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Lovely Honeybus cover

I chanced upon this cover of one of my favourite Honeybus songs, Colin Hare’s Be Thou By My Side.

 

 

The band is LA based Electric Guest.  Most of what they do seems much poppier but this is such a sympathetic cover enhanced by the hilltop setting and an all round natural vibe.

Animal Song: Godley or Creme vocal?

Having said in my Fading Yellow Vol 4 review two weeks’ ago that the ‘rapturous vocal’ for track 6, Animal Song (Godley and Creme 1969 B-side under the unlikely name Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon) was by Kevin Godley, an article in April’s Shindig (page 69 sidebar) gives the vocalist as Lol Creme (though Shindig say Kevin was responsible for the folk-country A-side, I’m Beside Myself.

Now I’m confused.  What do others think?

Take a listen under #6 on Fading Yellow Volume 4.

Either way, it’s a gorgeous vocal.

 

Gilbert Green

No. 6 in Top 50 Bee Gees’ Songs 1966-72

By Robin & Barry Gibb
Lead Vocals: Barry, Robin
Recording: 1967
Album Bee Gees’ 1st 2006 Rhino re-issue


Embed from Getty Images

 

“His hearing wasn’t good but his eyes were clear”

Gilbert Green’s non-appearance on 1st is something of a mystery given the song’s unique qualities in the brothers’ canon.  Perhaps Robert Stigwood felt deathly themes had been sufficiently aired in New York Mining Disaster 1941, a song which marries the Gibbs’ originality with just enough folk-rock commerciality.

Or perhaps there is something too esoteric and obscure about ‘Gilbert Green’ which is precisely what makes it so fascinating.  Given its enigmatic theme, it is apt that the brothers’ rendition should remain buried in the vaults for almost forty years.

The song was given to Gerry Marsden, presumably in the hope that it might reignite his career as a kind of psychedelic hipster.  The former Pacemaker turns in a creditable enough performance and the well dressed 1967 strings are present and correct.  But the Bee Gees’ own version definitely has the superior edge.    

Psychedelic fairy-tale

Various elements combine to create a disconcerting mood.  Even the introduction and opening bars remind me of something from Julian Cope’s Fried.

Firstly, the intriguing verse melody is set to solo electric guitar, underscored only by Barry’s mournful backing vocal.  For the Bee Gees this is an unusually stark arrangement (their own) which ideally suits the song’s fairy-tale strangeness.

The melody is folk-based yet never adheres to a strict folk template with its twists and turns as the story Gilbert Greenunfolds.

Then at times it feels as if we are in a minor key even when we’re not hearing minor chords; rather than offering relief, unresolved major excursions serve only to emphasise a shadowy quality.

And the tempo has a flexibility which lends the song a particular air of uncertainty.

Attic alchemist 

The approach here is more imaginative and multilayered than the tragi-romantic ballads of 1969/70 onwards, which is why I have a special regard for the Bee Gees’ very earliest UK years.

Like some kind of alchemist, Gilbert labours away alone, trying to write the perfect song while the world carries on, oblivious.  The mood is of secrecy and mystery couched in a sadness which is ironic.  We are never quite meant to feel sorry for Gilbert Green, not even his eventual demise in a fire presumably of his own making, though we are perhaps meant to wonder whether he was mad, bad or brilliant.

Lines like ‘His hearing wasn’t good but his eyes were clear’ are vaguely unsettling but still quirky enough to raise a smile.  ‘Mending fifty carpets that are worn’ is another especially good line – a vivid image of Gilbert’s threadbare quest.

Then we have the tumble from the attic of the second verse to the surviving basement song of the last verse, implying a descent into madness and a man brought down by lofty (sorry!) ambitions – classic fairy-tale morality.

Threadbare quest

Robin sings the verses with understatement.  His questioning, dropping away at the end of phrases is especially effective.  Only the lyric ‘laughing men and yellow beans’, for me, works against the song’s careful tension between sobriety and sly humour, moving into comic nonsense.

The chorus, announced by a simple double drum beat, is a more conventional beast both melodically and lyrically but ends with the arresting: ‘We can tell the world that he was right!’

Hearing this, for the first time we are brought suddenly and directly into the mystery.  This feels unexpected and disconcerting.  Gilbert Green, a man barely known let alone understood, is nevertheless made known to us by the telling of this ‘song that wasn’t seen’.  The song we hear is Gilbert’s song, his sole legacy.  We have become a party to his secret story and a part of it.

The joke is on…

The song’s central event, the burning of the house ‘along with Gilbert Green’ – happens off stage.  Was the fire a result of simple carelessness or was Gilbert Green, in some sense, consumed by his own passions?  Perhaps the ‘laughing men and yellow beans’ hint at Gilbert’s madness yet somehow the joke seems to be on the world at large.  The song exits on an extended meandering ‘aah’ vocal coda, fading like a question mark in the air.

Gilbert Green sits squarely in that peculiarly ‘60s pop genre ‘portraits of eccentric outsiders’.  It shares elements with the genre’s pinnacle, Eleanor Rigby: a story of a lonely life followed by death and then mourning, a sense of surreal disassociation, the significance of a few carefully chosen details, a willingness to visit discomfort upon the listener and a would-be literary sensibility.

Gilbert Green also represents an early example of the brothers’ skill at absorbing musical styles around them and working them into a uniquely Gibb sensibility. It’s amazing to think that Gilbert Green was written when the Bee Gees were not yet out of their teens.

No 5 Swan Song
No 7 Really and Sincerely

Fading Yellow Volume 4

Fading Yellow 4Flower Machine Records, FMRCD1004

“Timeless UK 60s popsike and other delights”

No, my Fading Yellow reviews haven’t disappeared, maybe just faded for a while.

I wanted to review the volumes in order which meant tracking down the elusive Volume 4. It’s a solidly enjoyable collection.

I hope you will find it easier to pick out individual tracks than in previous Fading Yellow reviews.


#1 Thoughts and Words – Morning Sky [1969] *****


‘I’ll fly the morning sky and then I’ll fly away’.

A fine melodic start to this comp.  Wistful harmony folk-pop not unlike Simon and Garfunkel crossed with Christie with an echo of ‘Across the Universe’-Beatles.  Producer Mike Batt brings sparkle to acoustic guitar strings whilst maintaining an overall natural vibe.

Bob Ponton (who wrote Morning Sky) and Martin Curtis were ex members of Pandamonium (not the Manchester based group of the same name).  There is a 13 track Liberty album also produced by Mike Batt with a cover depicting the duo in a woodland setting which I have not yet heard.

And here is Bob Ponton with Morning Sky in 2008:

I stumbled across this excellent  Mike Batt discography


#2 The Picadilly Line – At the Third Stroke [1967] ***


From The Huge World of Emily Small the Line’s only album (Picadilly was intentionally spelt with one ‘c’ since London Underground owned the copyright to the original though Fading Yellow adds the second).

The duo were Welsh born Ron Edwards and Roger Hand who began as folkies before being signed to CBS for an album of very 1967 lightly orchestrated  folk-pop-rock.

Picadilly LineThe arrangements are John Cameron’s, fresh from his revitalisation of Donovan’s career via Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow.  ‘Emily Small’ shares many of the same musicians – Danny Thompson on bass, Harold McNair on flute, Tony Carr on drums for some tracks – but the arrangements never quite fly as freely as they do for Donovan.

At the Third Stroke is a little twee at times (‘the circus returns to the town’), but is redeemed by an undercurrent of mystery or incipient threat.  There’s a feel of Chad and Jeremy in its determination to fully paint a scene and a tasty guitar sound which I know from somewhere.

I’m not sure what the ‘at the third stroke’ aspect of the song is apart from an obvious reference to the then ‘talking clock’ telephone service and this being the third track.  A concept ran through the album but it was enigmatic at the time and utterly lost a half century later.


#3 The Majority – Charlotte Rose [1969] ****


Majority OneThe Majority (1965-69) were an accomplished band especially in their later Majority One incarnation (1969-71) as 2005’s Rainbow Rockin’ Chair comp shows in abundance.

This is an enjoyably multi-part love song written by Grapefruit’s George Alexander with baroque flavourings, Beatlesque moments in those ‘I don’t know’ backing vocals and perhaps a flavour of ‘Man in a Shop’ era Marmalade.


#4 The J & B – There She Goes [1966] ***


Micky Jones and Tommy Brown’s promising first release before changing their name to the more zeitgeist State of Micky & Tommy.

Here we have a post beat/just pre-psychedelic sound, so it’s electric guitars with sometime strings which enjoy some nicely augmented moments.


#5 The Playground – The Girl Behind the Smile [1969] ****


B-side to I Could Be So Good, this Essex band released three singles around 1969/70 and this is the second.

Some nice piano arpeggios over twangy acoustic guitar and harmonies suggest innocence and indeed in its sunnier passages, The Girl Behind the Smile reminds me of Malcolm Holland’s Wendy from Piccadilly Sunshine 16


#6 Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon – Animal Song  [1969] *****


B-side to I’m Beside Myself (on the fabulous Marmalade label) and both sides written by Godley and Creme, Animal Song is charmed and charming, an escape into a beguiling realm similar to the more mellow tracks from Godley and Creme’s 1970 album as Hotlegs.

Tony Meehan (early Shadows) opts for a shimmering sitar arrangement which perfectly complements Kevin Godley’s rapturous vocals post-script on this point

Intriguingly imaginative before they placed too much cleverness between them and their music.


#7 Pipes of Pan – Monday Morning Rain [1967] ***


Buzzing cello, clanging guitar, organ, telegraph wire strings and a slowed down lysergic mood.  The B-side was an instrumental version.  

Monday Morning rain was just too outré to make it.  The sleeve says produced by Larry Page and written by Chip Taylor.


#8 The Toyshop – Send My Love to Lucy [1969] *****


A trippy fantasy of loneliness and yearning – wonderful.  The singer is missing his love but seems strangely content to remain in an  enchanted world.

B-side to Carter-Lewis’s poppy Say Goodbye to Yesterday, this is ambitious and beautifully put together and will truly take you on a journey.  A portentous vocal recalls Moody Blues as do lyrics such as ‘and in the depths of deep unconsciousness you’ll find you’re on a journey to the cities of your mind…’   I can almost hear early Family too.

A fine arrangement overall though I’m not sure about the wailing backing vocals… still, this scrapes to five stars.

How come they only made the one 45?


#9 The Candlelight – That’s What I Want [1967] ***


Written by Carter-Lewis in their Ivy League vein with echos of ‘Sealed With a Kiss’, That’s What I Want has been recorded since 1963 by The Cicadas, The Marauders, The Liverpool Five and probably others.

The Candlelight’s version comes with dense harmonies, ‘cello and nice guitar work.   This works up a little to be like Hour Girl (The Rites, #10, Fading Yellow 2) but not half as powerful.


#10 The Epics – Henry Long [1968] ***


B-side to Travelling Circus.  Written by Chip Hawkes and produced by ex-Tremelo Alan Blakley, Henry Long perhaps sounds later than 1968 with that compact piano sound and the electric guitar break.   I’m sure there’s a story in there somewhere.

‘Travelling Circus’ b/w ‘Henry Long’ was The Epics third and final single release before they morphed into Christie but not before releasing the Roy Wood produced ‘Round the Maypole’.


#11 Finders Keepers – Light [1966] ***


Big drums, big production, surf-influenced vocals and a girl group influenced sound… dramatic brass, strings, harpsichord flourishes set to fairly banal girl/boy vocals.  Those descending piano motifs do give a sense of ‘when the night closes in’ though.

Finders Keepers included future Deep Purple member Glenn Hughes but, that apart, is one of the less interesting tracks here.


#12 Martin, Martin – Imagine [1967] ***


The trippy B-side to Say Shalom on Buddha with a desolate bookending (well, OK, breath wind effects) trippy, drony and vocoded backing vocals and – trumpet.

The rather knowing picture sleeve portrait of Martin Martin in shades suggests he was well hip to the vibe of ’67.


#13 The Young Brothers – Mirror, Mirror [1968] ***


Cook-Greenway produced and wrote the A-side I’ve Always Wanted Love whilst group member Paul Young went on to Sad Café.

Not the Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours song, the melody recalls Jimmy Campbell’s ‘Forever Grateful’ from his 1970 album Half Baked.

Mirror, Mirror breaks out into a soul influenced chorus which prepares us for…


#14 Robbi Curtice – The Soul of Man [1968] ****


Robbi Curtice truly operates at the crucible of mod, soul and  psychedelia.  His epic ballad When Diana Paints the Picture was a definite highlight of Fading Yellow 3

Knowing this A-side pairing represented his more upbeat northern soul side, I was eager to hear it, hotly anticipating Robbi would inject excitement into proceedings, which he does from the word go with pounding drums/bass, dramatic stop-start ‘Smash!’ ‘Damn!’ lyrics before we open out into full chorus with brass and flutes.

This slab of hi energy dynamism is a great pairing for its dreamy B-side though ‘Diana’ remains the single’s crowning glory but see also #25.


#15 Alan Bown – All I Can [1969] ***


Written by Tony Catchpole, this was B-side to Deram single Gypsy Girl.  

I’m getting to find out more about this band through various fragmentary sources.


#16 Jason Paul – Shine a Little Light into My Room [1969] ***


According to Fading Yellow‘s notes, this A-side orchestrated pop piece was written by Al Gorgoni of The Flying Machine and Bobby Weinstein.


#17 The Californians – Can’t get You Out of My Mind [1967] ***


Of Follow Me and The Cooks of Cakes and Kindness fame, this is the swinging pop B-side from The Californians first single, Sunday Will Never be the Same (a hit for Spanky and Our Gang).


#18 Wayne Fontana – The Impossible Years [1967] ****


A survey of the titles of Wayne Fontana’s 1967/78 singles – 24 Sycamore, The Words of Bartholomew, Storybook Children – show how eager was he to jump aboard the psychedelic bus.

Embed from Getty Images

 

After a portentous beginning this sympathetic exploration of the mixed emotions of adolescence develops into a characteristically minor-key Graham Gouldman revelation complete with plucked strings, precision trumpet and that Gouldman giveaway final off-tonic strum.

Gouldman was bassist with the Mindbenders and recorded his own version of The Impossible Years for The Graham Gouldman Thing LP.  Gouldman’s English enunciation and baroque stylings add a delicate feel but Wayne Fontana provides more edge.


#19 Wayne Fontana – In My World [1967] ***


Hats off to Fading Yellow’s policy of featuring rarer tracks from artists not associated with psych, sike or psychedelia showing how almost everyone was touched by the changing times.

This is a Sergeant Pepper influenced invitation written by fellow Mindbender, Glyn Ellis aka Wayne Fontana.


#20 John Bromley – If You Were There With Me [1968] ****


John BromleyThis achingly idyllic track from SingJohn Bromley’s 1968 Polydor album, is consummately gentle folk-pop with wispy female backing vocals courtesy of Yvonne ‘Sue’ and Heather ‘Sunny’ Wheatman.

John credits Graham Dee as probably having come up with the idea for the female counterpoint melody.

The arrangement is by Gerry Shury who, despite his later pop-soul leanings, here turns in a gorgeously understated baroque accompaniment.


#21 The Gibsons – You Know I Need Your Loving [1967] ***


B-side to The Magic Book, with a more US flavour though there is a Beatles influence to some of the vocal phrasing.

The band hailed from Australia but came to England in 1965 – hence their inclusion here.


#22 Dave Berry – And I Have Learned to Dream [1967] ***


B-side to 1967 Bee Gees’ penned single Forever, this is a highly wistful song written by Ian Hunter (given as Ian Patterson here).  You can straightaway tell it’s Dave though even through the heavily vocoded vocal.

Embed from Getty Images

Pre-dream Dave 

His best chart-era single was 1970’s Chaplin House, captured on Fading Yellow Volume 12.


#23 The Majority – Wait By the Fire [1967] ****


A sobering, atmospheric B-side (produced by Ivor Raymonde) to I Hear a Rhapsody – ‘in the cold light of the dawn you will understand’ – also recorded lower, slower and more sombre still by Just Us.


#24 David McNeil – Linda [1969]  ***


David is the son of Marc Chagall!

A stoned, self-written A-side complemented by rich harmonies and string/woodwind arrangement though sub-par sound quality.

It’s atmospheric but doesn’t quite do enough despite a springy energy, hinting at a breakout into something which never arrives.


#25 Robbi Curtice with Tom Payne – Gospel Lane [1968] ****


Robbi Curtice truly operates at the crucible of mod, soul, psychedelia and – music hall?  Well it worked for The Small Faces.

An assured touch from the very start with a Billy Nicholls’ cheekiness and a vein of quirky graveyard humour all set to a catchy melody.

Gospel Lane was written by Rob Ashmore and Tom Payne and feels like it wants to break out into a big arrangement but doesn’t perhaps because this is a home recorded demo.

The track is dated 1969 by Fading Yellow but Robbi Curtice’s Youtube upload says 1968 so let’s go with that.

I hold the next volume in my hand so hopefully the gap won’t be quite as long before Fading Yellow 5 fades into view.


1. Thoughts and Words – Morning Sky   3.36 • 1967 *****
2. The Picadilly Line – At the Third Stroke  3.03 • 1967 ***
3. The Majority – Charlotte Rose  2.59 • 1969 ****
4. The J & B – There She Goes   2.46 • 1966 ***
5. The Playground – The Girl behind the Smile   3.02 • 1969 ****
6. Frabjoy & Runcible Spoon – Animal Song   2.22 • 1969 *****
7. Pipes of Pan – Monday Morning Rain   3.02 • 1967 ***
8. The Toyshop – Send My Love to Lucy   4.20 • 1969 *****
9. The Candlelight – That’s What I Want   2.26 • 1967 ***
10. The Epics –  Henry Lord   2.46 • 1968 ***
11. Finders Keepers – Light  3.12 • 1966 ***
12. Martin Martin – Imagine  2.13 • 1967 ***
13. The Young Brothers – Mirror Mirror  3.25  • 1968 ***
14. Robbi Curtice – The Soul of Man  2.32 • 1968 ****
15. The Alan Bown – All I Can 2.46 • 1969 ***
16. Jason Paul – Shine a Little Light Into My Room  2.48 • 1969 ***
17. The Californians – Can’t get You Out of My Mind  2.05 •1967 ***
18. Wayne Fontana – The Impossible Years  2.31 • 1967 ****
19. Wayne Fontana – In My World  3.04 • 1967 ***
20. John Bromley – If You Are There With Me  3.14 • 1968 ****
21. The Gibsons – You Know I Need Your Loving  3.02 • 1967 ***
22. Dave Berry – And I Have learned to Dream  3.11 • 1968 ***
23. The Majority – Wait By the Fire  3.14 • 1967 ****
24. David McNeil – Linda  2.50 • 1969 ***
25. Robbi Curtice with Tom Payne – Gospel Lane • 2.38 • 1968 ****


Fading Yellow Volume 1
Fading Yellow Volume 2
Fading Yellow Volume 3