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 possibly 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.
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.