Bee Gees – A Kick in the Head is Worth Eight in the Pants

The last of three albums the Bee Gees recorded in 1972, A Kick in the Head is Worth Eight in the Pants was unissued thanks to the underperforming and underwhelming Life in a Tin Can.

Yet, despite its jokey title, A Kick in the Head… is reckoned to be the worthier contender and deservedly so.  Barry and Robin are in healthy vocal shape and the ballad heavy songs are at least well crafted.  More attention is paid to production than with its predecessor adding to an assured feel.

Sugar and grit

But still the writing lacks genuine inspiration.  The overall effect is of too much sugar and not enough grit.  Lonely Violin is the chief offender.  Despite an undeniably fetching melody it’s just too calculating to be really touching.  Lonely Violin wants to be taken seriously yet cannot truly touch me.  And yet neither does it tip into outright parody, Cucumber Castle style.

The most successful track is the striking Elisa, with its slow-build chorus gradually drawing us in.  Harry’s Gate extends nostalgic reminiscence into near self-mythology but it’s one of the more impressive songs here lent extra impact by the three brothers singing in unison on the chorus’ shared memories.

Production tends towards default lush as if hi-sheen surface alone demonstrates a quality product whereas it most likely suggests an overfriendliness towards AOR radio, ironic given that this album never made it onto the airwaves.  Like others, I can hear another Barry at times – Manilow – in the album’s romantic, schmaltzy sensibility.

Soft underbelly

And maybe that hints at the problem I have with the Bee Gees come 1972/73. In 1968, they simply wrote one freshly-minted song after another, put across with conviction, urgency and flair. Many were about lost love yet each conveyed a different emotional flavour. But five years down the line the Bee Gees’ emotion is like a kind of bland, en masse ‘thing’. They sound like a band producing what they think the public expects of them, no more and no less.

Four songs produced in London in early 1973 (King and Country, Jesus in Heaven, Life, Am I Wasting My Time? and the atypically political Dear Mr. Kissinger) are unfortunately not as compositionally strong as the best of the LA bunch.

It’s not hard to see why, at this point, even if at least one of the 1972 trio had fared rather better commercially, a change was required to relight the brothers’ fire. The Bee Gees’ soft underbelly was about to be made lean once again.


A Kick In the Head is Worth Eight in the Pants [1973]

Side 1
Elisa
Wouldn’t I Be Someone
A Lonely Violin
Losers and Lovers
Home Agaian Rivers

Side 2
Harry’s Gate
Rocky LA
Castles In the Air
Where is Your Sister
It Doesn’t Matter Much to Me*


Singles 1973 [related to A Kick In the Head…]
Wouldn’t I Be Someone
Elisa

* ‘It Doesn’t Matter Much to Me’ was B-side to 1974 single ‘Mr Natural’ from their album of that name.


<- Life In a Tin Can


Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

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Bee Gees – Life In a Tin Can

The brothers don’t like this album much and neither do I.  An air of complacency hangs over proceedings not helped by the resolutely slow to middling pace across eight tracks lasting a mere thirty-two minutes.

Life In a Tin Can is the sound of the Bee Gees narrowing down their craft on almost every front.  Melodies mostly lack ambition and lyrics are unremarkable.  Where is the urgency, the passion?  Maybe the laidback LA vibe didn’t help.  At least they don’t pad out the tracks with superfluous instrumental breaks or extended codas so as to reach a forty-five minute running time.

Laidback LA 

Despite these shortcomings, Robin and Barry’s vocals are fine and Robin even stretches himself on Method to My Madness even if the material is too insubstantial to generate the necessary emotional payoff.  This being the height of Maurice’s struggles with drink, we also lack a Maurice lead vocal/composition; his down-to-earthness, often a necessary antidote to Barry and Robin’s aggrandising tendencies, is missed here.  Still it’s nice to hear Maurice’s electric piano updating the unobtrusive but fairly bland production.

The best tracks are the opener, I Saw a New Morning (good dynamics), Robin’s My Life Has Been a Song (Barry’s bridge anticipates mid-late 70s Bee Gees) and Method to My Madness: all three have melodies a cut above the rest whilst lacking the freshness and vitality of earlier triumphs such as To Love Somebody, I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You or even the hookability of the more recent Lonely Days.

Mushy

Elsewhere I Don’t Wanna be the One slides headlong into the mush which always threatens to engulf Life In a Tin Can.  Living in Chicago is well meaning but unengaging.  Barry plays with his post-The Gambler country thang again on South Dakota Morning but it’s getting a bit played out now.

So not a single Can track in My Top 50.  ‘I played the game, Still it’s not worth it’.  This just about sums it up.

 


Life In a Tin Can [1973]

Side 1
Saw a New Morning

I Don’t Wanna Be the One
South Dakota Morning
Living in Chicago

Side 2
While I Play

My Life Has Been a Song
Come Home Johnny Bridie
Method to My Madness


Singles 1973 [related to Life In a Tin Can]

Saw a New Morning
My Life Has Been a Song


-> A Kick in the Head is Worth Eight in the Pants
<- To Whom It May Concern


Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Bee Gees – Trafalgar

Trafalgar looks to new horizons with an uncertainty which sums up the band’s situation at the time.

Despite huge singles success with Lonely Days and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, the Bee Gees’ chart entries increasingly feel like isolated milestones measured further apart.  But here they turn the tenuousness of their position to their advantage.

Trafalgar is simply the Bee Gees’ best early 70s album, one which needs to be heard from the first to last groove and preferably in one sitting.  Allegedly it was to have been a twenty-track opus, thus overtaking Odessa, but even in two-sided format, Trafalgar’s monumentality is an altogether more measured affair and as a twelve track album of forty-seven minutes, it doesn’t feel at all foreshortened.

Emotional landscape

At last the Bee Gees have come up with a vision for the new decade and the songs to match it.  Those who only know the Bee Gees for their ‘disco’ hits are often stunned at hearing relatively unknown tracks like Trafalgar and Walking Back to WaterlooTrafalgar is underplayed and touching whilst Walking Back to Waterloo marks a breadth, maturity and sheer emotionality which is perhaps unrivalled in the brothers’ back catalogue.

Elsewhere, the extended songs which were tiresome on 2 Years On come alive, especially Don’t Want to Live Inside Myself where Barry really expands his vocals.  They almost savage Lion in Winter whilst When Do I sounds like a strange vocal exercise.

Sensuousness, alienation, frustration, a search for the heroic and the occasional influence of The Beatles (still) are felt in Trafalgar.  Maurice’s deep bass and chordal piano sound great and Bill Shepherd’s dignified arrangements provide orchestral weight.

It’s a different landscape – moody, expansive, atmospheric – and it works.


Trafalgar [1971]

Side 1
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

Israel
The Greatest Man in the World
It’s Just the Way
Remembering
Somebody Stop the Music

Side 2
Trafalgar
Don’t Wanna Live Inside Myself
When Do I
Dearest
Lion In Winter
Walking Back to Waterloo


Singles 1971/72 [related to Trafalgar] 

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart
Country Woman

Don’t Wanna Live Inside Myself
Walking Back to Waterloo

Israel
Dearest


Other artists 1971

Lulu – Everybody Clap


-> To Whom It May Concern
<- 2 Years On


Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Bee Gees – 2 Years On

If Cucumber Castle was hyperbolic, 2 Years On is pervaded with an insipid feel and, for me, a sense of disappointment and anti-climax.  They got back together – for this?  Had the brothers used up their stock of quality material on their 1970 solo albums?  Perhaps but thankfully, as it turns out, they were also stock-piling for 1971’s Trafalgar.

Off their high horses

It’s clear the Bee Gees weren’t going to get back on their art-pop high horses to continue where Odessa left off.  Given the splintering in rock which had grown into a chasm during that 1969/70 hiatus, it just wouldn’t have been a credible move.  Indeed, the low-key feel of 2 Years On can be heard as a deliberate antidote to the ‘excesses’ (which I would argue were not excesses at all) of their red-velvet high watermark.  Only Lonely Days (the album’s only single) feels vital and attention grabbing here, though being just short of a Beatles‘ pastiche it is hardly impressively original.

For once, Bill Shepherd’s arrangements seem to suck the life out of the (fairly lifeless) songs.  Most are slow paced and sometimes over-stretched; The First Mistake I Ever Made is a repeat offender.

We have so-so country (Portrait of Louise), a would-be weepie (Tell Me Why) whilst the raw, lively though slightly out-of-place tour blues lament Back Home is annoyingly allowed to dissipate.  2 Years On might have worked in Robin’s Sing Slowly Sisters style but as an album opener it’s just uninspiring and meandering (nice chorale prequel though).  Sincere Relation is Robin at his most eccentric but with its gravely portentous ‘but then he died …’ can’t make me feel much – a shame as I sense it’s probably a most personal piece.  Robin’s contributions generally come off worst of the three.

Sub-prime Bee Gees

Hearing 2 Years On makes me long for the clipped precision of songs such as Lemons Never Forget.  The album actually feels most successful at its most incongruous – the stripped-down Back Home, the swampy Every Second, Every Minute (mimicking 1968’s The Earnest of Being George) and rootsy Lay It On Me which playfully hints at Maurice’s drink problem.  But these diversions into sub-prime Bee Gees territory often feel more forced than earlier excursions such as Lemons Never Forget (why do I keep coming back to that song?)

The brothers are in good voice and of course it’s great to hear them harmonising again but this hardly trumpets a return to form let alone an inspirational new departure.  Overall 2 Years On lacks identity, feels pedestrian and fails to create much in the way of atmosphere.

Already two albums into the new decade but it seems as if the Bee Gees are adrift in the 70s.  Thankfully they get it together on Trafalgar.

 


2 Years On [1970]

Bee Gees - 2 Years On

Side 1
2 Years On
Portrait of Louise
Man For All Seasons
Sincere Relation
Back Home
The First Mistake I Made

Side 2
Lonely Days
Alone Again
Tell Me Why
Lay It On Me
Every Second, Every Minute
I’m Weeping

 


Singles 1970 [related to 2 Years On]

Lonely Days
Man For All Seasons


-> Trafalgar
<- Cucumber Castle

 

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees Home Page

Bee Gees – Cucumber Castle

High drama meets sock-it-to-me sentiment in big productions numbers.  The Bee Gees may be down to a duo but what they lack in manpower they make up for by delivering an onslaught of thick, multi-layered, multi-tracked, cavernous sound.

Cucumber Castle is moderately enjoyable as a genre-pastiche album, the genre being a kind of schlocky, Spectoresque take on country but it’s too dripping with sentiment to truly engage.  Talk about over egging the pudding…  And most worryingly, the songwriting has gone down a couple of notches as well.

Lacquered emotion

If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else is an uncharacteristically reflective, unassuming opener but thereafter we’re mostly drowning in choirs, horns and oodles of emotion.  I Lay Down and Die plasters it on so lavishly you have to admire its bravado whilst Bury Me Down by the River successfully marries a dark lyric to an instantly singalong, though somewhat generic, gospel-country melody.  I prefer to end the album with Turning Tide reaching out to Trafalgar so as to avoid the lacquered emotion of Don’t Forget to Remember.

My problem with Cucumber Castle is that it unashamedly pulls out all the stops for massive and massively sentimental ballads, providing the band’s detractors with all the ammunition they need for decrying the Bee Gees as appealing to bored, middle-aged housewives.  In contrast, Odessa carries sentimentality aloft amidst waves of unabashed grandeur, the orchestration aspiring to splendour not whipped up ersatz cream.  If there is a link between the two albums it is First of May which just about works within the context of Odessa but alarmingly signals the degree to which the brothers were prepared to ratchet up the sentimentality.

Cucumber Castle tires you the more you hear it.  And the stark corrective of Robin’s contributions are missed.


Cucumber Castle [1970]

Side 1
If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else
I.O.I.O.
Then You Left Me
The Lord

I Was the Child
I Lay Down and Die

Side 2
Sweetheart
Bury Me Down By the River
My Thing
The Chance of Love
Turning Tide
Don’t Forget to Remember

 


Singles 1969/70 [related to Cucumber Castle]

Don’t Forget to Remember
The Lord

If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else
Sweetheart

I.O.I.O.
Sweetheart


Unreleased 1969/70

Who Knows What a Room Is


-> 2 Years On
<- Odessa 

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Bee Gees – Odessa

The Bee Gees’ red velvet masterpeace (sic) brims with drama and melodrama.

Side 1 forms the core of a concept album of sorts, far-reaching yet highly personal, albeit in the brothers’ characteristically oblique fashion.

Then side 2 takes us on a wholly unexpected diversion – five songs in styles vastly different from what has gone before and from each other kicking off with the languid Marley Purt Drive (a competent but unimaginative Band tribute/rip-off) and wrapped up by the startling Whisper, Whisper – teetering melody, stoner vocal, slyly knowing late 60s in-referencing.

Forgotten concept

On sides 3 and 4, Seven Seas Symphony, With All Nations and finale The British Opera attempt, like some remonstrative baton-tapping conductor, to restore some semblance of over-arching order.  We’ve probably forgotten whatever concept there was by then anyway and perhaps that’s the point – the lushness, the grandiosity, the sheer sumptuous magnificence and the emotions conveyed – are the concept.

At times, Odessa barely feels like a rock album at all, not even a rock opera album.  The title track is almost devoid of conventional pop/rock elements and the theatrical Lamplight luxuriates in conservatism.

Magisterial

One thing hugely in the album’s favour is that, although epic and magisterial, only rarely is Odessa pompous (the choral/instrumental tracks and then knowingly so) and never is it dull.  The whole edifice hangs together with a certain strange splendour.

Far from fading with passing years, time has actually lent that red velvet a lustre in the eyes of fans and critics it never acquired at the time. Only now can Odessa’s unique delights take their place alongside the great albums of a great year in rock.


Odessa [1969]

Side 1
Odessa (City on the Black Sea)
You’ll Never See My Face Again
Black Diamond

Side 2
Marley Purt Drive
Edison
Melody Fair
Suddenly
Whisper, Whisper

Side 3
Lamplight
Sound of Love
Give Your Best
Seven Seas Symphony
With All Nations (International Anthem)

Side 4
I Laugh In Your Face
Never Say Never Again
First Of May
The British Opera


Singles 1969 [related to Odessa]

First Of May
Lamplight

Tomorrow, Tomorrow
Sun In My Morning


Unreleased 1969

Nobody’s Someone
Pity

* released on Odessa Rhino reissue, 2009


-> Two Years On
<- Idea

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Carole Bayer Sager

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Well hello again, good old friend of mine…

Some albums seem to follow you around as if they have chosen you rather than you them.  When you’re asked “What kind of music do you like?” they don’t leap to the front of the queue, indeed they’re more likely shrink to the back, tail between legs.  The phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ springs to mind.

The album which exemplifies this for me is Carole Bayer Sager’s 1977 eponymous LP.  I can never quite embrace it, there’s some unaccountable resistance on my part.  Yet I feel it embraces me.

Constant companion

Carole Bayer Sager has always been there for me through thick and thin.  I don’t read anything especially profound into the songs and there are no hidden layers of meaning.  Maybe the album is a kind of comfort blanket.  The opening and closing tracks, Come In From the Rain and Home to Myself,  certainly encourage this.

Carole sings to me only when no one else is around.  That’s partly born out of necessity yet it’s given the album a kind of intimacy like no other.

I’ll play it when I’m preparing dinner.  The ritual is familiar: uncork to Come In From the Rain, chop vegetables Until the Next Time, pasta in the pan to Sweet Alibis – dig that guitar break – and singing along to all ten tracks bar one: I’ve never enjoyed the chugging, discolite Don’t Wish Too Hard.

I actually like her voice, it never grates.  I hear a cooing little girl and a cracked, mature woman in one.  On her later albums her voice has ‘improved’ but her personality and charm is diminished.

The other Carole

The songs are mostly piano based and I’d long assumed that it was Carole at the keyboard aka Carole King.  So it came as a surprise to learn that this is not the case.

Perhaps I wanted to hear the album as a kind of singer-songwriter confessional.  If you had no idea who Carole Bayer Sager was (and is) and simply play the album, it does work that way.  She never attempted a Carole King style reinvention and 1977 was a little late to board the singer-songwriter bandwagon.  Bayer-Sager lacks King’s woody soulfulness and her themes are too resolutely romantic unless you want to posit You’re Moving Out Today as social commentary.

On examining the writing credits, the other discovery I made was that all the songs are co-written – with Melissa Manchester, Johnny Vastanao, Marvin Hamlisch, Bruce Roberts and Bette Midler.  Perhaps this belies the singularity of the album’s title.  Bayer-Sager is described as a lyricist before she is described as a songwriter and I’ve found it impossible to ascertain the division of labour.

So somewhat disavowed of my romanticism, I see that the album is essentially a vehicle for a highly successful, mainstream writer to showcase her compositions with a little help from her friends.  Which does nothing to curtail my enjoyment.

Oh Carole!

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Carole Bayer Sager, whilst likable and well crafted, isn’t sophisticated or cool.  The best of her work is perhaps seen as on a par with post-prime Bacharach (there’s a wonderfully indiscreet tale about how their marriage ended in her recently published autobiography – the woman has the driest sense of humour).

She moves into boring, international AOR territory with the 80s and 90s and the personality is lost.  Yet I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love is a fine song from a singular standpoint.  Try Dusty Springfield‘s version if you find Carole’s just a tad too croaky.

I’m playing her song

It was the ’77 novelty (let’s call it that) hit You’re Moving Out Today which drew me to the album when I pulled it out of some long forgotten early 90s bargain bin.  The song is untypical – overtly humorous and uptempo with a slightly 20s feel.  It evokes the affluent, liberal lifestyle of mid 70s LA more strongly than any other I know – the kookiness, the kinkiness, the Tales of the City  bedhopping lifestyle.

I suspect that it might be co-writer Bette Midler who provided the rubber hose, funny cigarettes and leaky water bed.  The lyrics are daft yet I would be hard pushed to say they are good in a formal sense.  They’re clever but undeniably cheesy.  Who can resist the abandon of ‘pack up your rubber duck, I’d like to wish you luck’?  It’s this unabashed quirkiness which is so missing from her second and third solo albums.  They’re bland but it doesn’t matter.  She isn’t the kind of artist where you need to take on the complete works.

Home to myself

When I moved house last year there came several occasions over a period of months when I observed the new place feeling like my own, as if I were sinking comfortably into it.

One was when I played Carole Bayer Sager for the first time.  Doing so breathed a kind of warm, easy familiarity into the air.  I uncorked the Merlot and poured myself a glass.  Comin’ home to myself again.

It’s taken twenty-five years but Carole, I embrace you.

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