Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You

By Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry
Album Bee Gees’ 1st 


 

And so to the most overrrated Bee Gees‘ track of 1966-72…

I know I will make myself unpopular with pop-psych fans by finding fault with a song upheld by many as the pinnacle of Bee Gees’ psychedelia (sure enough it’s top of the list in this month’s Shindig  ‘Bee Gees Deep Cuts’ feature).

Criticising Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You goes against the grain of my general preference for psychedelic over romantic ballad Bee Gees.  And there’s no doubting this is one of their most outré pieces.  But being self-consciously experimental and ‘psychedelic’ in themselves aren’t enough to make a song any good.

Far out

This dreary (as against dreamy, as it might like to think it is) dirge sounds as if it was written to simply get as far out as the Bee Gees were able to get in early 1967.  Its melody is by far the dullest on Bee Gees 1st.  I can almost hear the needle getting stuck in the groove in the yawning depth of Maurice’s pitch bend.

Indeed Maurice does a terrific job in controlling the notorious mellotron.  And yes the lyrics are strange but does that mean they are stimulating or that they emotionally connect with the listener in any way?

Red Chair Fade Away has an OK, fairly fluffy kind of weirdness but at least it’s about something and makes me feel a response, not ‘when is this sub-Beatles moan going to end?’  No wonder we need Craise Finton Kirk as an antidote.

Out to impress

Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You sets out to impress and I’m amazed by the ease with which it does so.  But for me, it screams ‘let’s collect some counter cultural brownie points’, never mind writing a decent song.

That’s really that’s all there is to say apart from the oft-quoted ‘the brothers sound like Gregorian monks.’  But how much better do they put their chanting abilities on a well-crafted, properly atmospheric and genuinely ambitious composition such as Odessa?

So I’m afraid this is well outside my Top 50 and easily the most skipable track on 1st.

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Edison

By Barry Robin & Maurice Gibb
Lead Vocals: Barry & Robin
Album Odessa 1969


“Edison’s here to stay”

In 1968, the Bee Gees recorded several songs at New York’s Atlantic studios following the cancellation of a US tour.  Known then as Barbara Came to Stay, this was the last of them.

The song was to change when the brothers returned to England with Barry’s rhythm guitar mixed out and an organ added.  Most importantly, the lyrics were entirely replaced resulting in a new title, Edison.

This was no mere cosmetic change.  Barbara Came to Stay (albeit with incomplete lyrics  on the Sketches for Odessa Rhino release) gives the appearance of an unremarkable love song but Edison brings forth a novelty piece, a kind of quirky, would be barbers’ shop ode to the founder of electricity.  The change fully integrates the song into the historical romanticism of the album whilst adding a slightly tongue-in-cheek charm.

The short instrumental passage’s weirdly modulating vibes sound as if they are playing on a precariously turning wax cylinder as if to capture the sonic essence of Edison’s – and Odessa’s – archaic, pre-electric sensibility.

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How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

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 how-can-you-mend-bylinewistful and self-questioning, How Can You Mend… is despairing, imploring, gospel raw, certainly in Al Green’s hands.

Supple soulfulness

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.

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One Minute Woman

By Robin & Barry Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry & Robin
Album Bee Gees’ 1st 1967


“Would it hurt to say hello or don’t you know?”

An appeal to a mysterious female, One Minute Woman is a pleasing, melodic ballad set to Barry’s slightly faltering vocal phrasing.

Robin’s earlier far smoother vocal irons out much of the song’s soulfulness.  Billy Fury’s version resembles Robin’s in this respect and perhaps it was Robin’s version which was given to Fury as a template for his cover.

Shifting moods

Melody and lyrics caress one another, touching on a variety of shifting moods – chivalrous at each titular verse opening, then imploring (‘I go down on my knees’), humbly sincere (‘to say to you with a word so true’), later even accusatory (‘Would it hurt to say hello?’) and crestfallen, bewildered (‘Or don’t you know?’).  We end on the simple ‘I love you’ – declamatory yes, but through landing on the sub-tonic against a flattened seventh chord, characteristically open-ended too.

Like several songs on Bee Gees 1st, One Minute Woman conceals a soulful quality beneath an immaculate pop-ballad exterior.

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In My Own Time

By Barry & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry
Album Bee Gees’ 1st 


“Sitting eating hot cross buns”

The most derivative track on 1st, In My Own Time inspires a lot of fondness for being a mere collection of blatant Revolver-era Beatles rip-offs.  Dressed in button down collars and Cuban heels, it’s a stab at ’66 sharpness amidst ’67’s frills.  A cheekiness lends an undeserved freshly-minted quality.

In My Own Time wants to be copycat cool.  But its rather better at the copycat than the cool.  Those nods to Revolver keep on coming:  Vince’s needling guitar, those clarion harmonies, the sweetly sour, mock cynical lyrics.

Pin sharp modernism 

Yet rather than Dr Robert or Taxman, In My Own Time is actually closer in spirit to Whistling Jack Smith’s 1967 novelty hit I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman being a half send-up, half celebration of Carnabetian, theatrical, neo-Victorian Englishness (‘sitting eating hot cross buns…’) swapping the latter’s forced merriment for the odd thrown in moment of arch sarcastic disregard (‘thousand suckers every one’.)

The couplet ‘Even when the lights go out, Still got things to think about’ serendipitously recalls With a Little Help from My Friends’ ‘What do you see when you turn out the light?’ though there could have been no debt.

Out of time

Robin, it must have been Robin, gets in his mention of the United Nations.  For all its pin sharp modernism musically, lyrically In My Own Time can be seen as an early hint at his out-of-timeness.

In My Own Time is a necessary pre-antidote to the over-rated, over-extended and, sorry, rather dull Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You which follows.  Its careful calculation is ultimately its very fresh-faced charm.

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Bee Gees bubbling under

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post on several Bee Gees’ songs which I like a lot but which didn’t quite make it into my Top 50.

Taking them in no particular order, I’ll be starting tomorrow with In My Own Time.

First of May

By Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry 
Album Odessa 1969
Single A-side 1969


 

“And you and I, our love will never die”

If a rock fan wanted to convince you that the Bee Gees are MOR sentimentalists they might well point to First of May.

Just as Boyzone’s Words emphasises the elements of that song I find hardest to get along with, so First of May exposes a tendency present in Odessa but held in abeyance until this point – a tendency towards unalloyed sentimentality.

Genuine sentimentality

Melody Fair and Lamplight are sentimental for sure but both are cast in fundamentally different moulds and have strongly redeeming qualities.  The twinkly First of May moves sentimentality centre stage, egged on by a show-no-mercy arrangement with its lashings of strings like sugar custard poured over apple pie.

The fact that First of May was chosen by Robert Stigwood as a single A-side (with Robin’s superior Lamplight relegated to the flip) doesn’t endear me to it either.  The decision signals the musical direction the Bee Gees were to take as well as being the ostensible cause of Robin’s walk out.

First of May looks forward to Cucumber Castle’s big production numbers but lacks their slightly knowing tipping of the hat towards genre clichés.  It shares a little in that album’s country feel too and maybe that’s the source of the sentimentality.

When Barry harks back to his old family home, I definitely picture an American homestead.  Knowing the brothers’ background in the Isle of Man and then Manchester, this makes the song feel even less genuine for me.

Buds of May

Hearing the quieter, piano-only (and very incomplete) demo on the deluxe Odessa makes me feel more tenderly towards First of May.  The key is a tone lower (C instead of D major) and Barry sings with a soft tenderness on the upper registers (‘And you and I…’) which he unfortunately substitutes for full-blown effect on the album version.

Thematically, First of May belongs squarely on Odessa.  I just wish it didn’t.  I know it’s about the brothers’ break-up but I can’t love it for that reason alone.

Massachusetts, Words, First of May: the ones that got away
Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72

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