By Barry & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Robin & Barry
Album Trafalgar 1971
“I can think of younger days”
I draw a line between If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? Both are unusually long song titles. Both open their respective albums. Both deal with the aftermath of heartbreak (nothing too unusual there admittedly). Both are slow ballads deploying diminished 7ths (the latter far more liberally). Both represent a move away from the Bee Gees’ 60s template towards a greater reliance on ballads written in a soul idiom. I see Main Chance on the horizon at this point. The psychedelic Bee Gees, if indeed they ever existed, are dead.
How Can You Mend… picks up the tendencies of its predecessor and walks with them a few steps into the future. Where If I Only… is wistful and self-questioning, How Can You Mend… is despairing, imploring, gospel raw, certainly in Al Green’s hands.
I like the emotional changes the song articulates, the wistful, stuttering phrasing/meter of the verses – ‘I can think of younger days…’ – followed by the sudden slow down reckoning and deliberation of the ‘I could never see tomorrow’ pre-chorus. And then the pained delicacy of the chorus opening giving way to full-blooded passion and finally – ‘let me live again’ – a sigh of longing which again recalls If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else.
The song’s supple soulfulness clearly offered opportunities for a vocalist of expressive dexterity to make it his own and Al Green’s cover remains, perhaps, the definitive version. A comparison with Andy Williams would have been fascinating had he not turned the song down.