The brothers were lucky when they came to England from Australia in early 1967. Not only was London in full swing but pop was taking on a range of new and exotic influences from medieval minstrelsy to mellotrons, ragas to Victoriana.
Much of this found its way into the Bee Gees’ music. That was nothing unusual, it was what a lot of bands were doing at the time – absorbing, adapting and adapting again. But when these influences combined with the brothers’ distinctive harmonising talents – honed over a decade of performing live – and their solidly melodic songwriting, the results were amongst the most solid yet engaging of the psychedelic pop genre.
Bee Gees 1st marked the beginning of a sustained campaign which kept the brothers’ Gibb in the charts throughout the remainder of the 60s, consistently balancing discipline with flair, accessibility with a desire to grow and change.
Ear to the zeitgeist
Some would say 1st is the Bee Gees’ strongest album and it’s not hard to hear why. Their ear-to-the-zeitgeist is evident everywhere: the Edwardian toytown pop of Turn of the Century, the fairytale swirl of Red Chair, Fade Away and the bendy monastic weirdness of Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You. As the 60s progress, the psychedelic trimmings gradually fall by the wayside but here they’re in full flight and put across with a confidence and, as always, terrific melodic ease.
They play with structure too, not just for the sake of it, but in a way which shows genuine musical understanding: listen to Robin’s sudden operatic digression taking Close Another Door to a whole other level and psychedelia triumphing over pop to bring an inventive fade to I Close My Eyes.
And then there’s their soulfulness. It’s startling just how fully formed were the brothers’ soul credentials even at this early stage and indeed soul forms the often underappreciated alternative arm of Bee Gees 1st. There is incredible emotion in Robin’s vocals for I Can’t See Nobody – and that’s before you even get to Nina Simone’s cover. And how To Love Somebody was so undervalued at the time is a mystery: what an utterly consummate pop ballad.
Interestingly, the album’s programming accentuates the psychedelia soul division with all the baroque pop/psychedelic tracks (Cucumber Castle apart) placed on side one and side two showing a definite leaning towards soul as well as a greater group feel.
Folk, Beatlesque pop art, cute whimsy, medieval psychedelic drones, soul ballads – beneath the genre hopping and sometime Craise Finton cheekiness these brothers simply write great pop music.
Bee Gees 1st sets out their stall and proves that they are songwriters to watch and be reckoned with.
Bee Gees 1st
To Love Somebody
Close Another Door
Barker of the UFO
Sir Geoffrey Saved the World
House of Lords*
I’ve Got to Learn*
All Around My Clock*
Mr Waller’s Wailing Wall*
* released on Bee Gees 1st Rhino reissue, 2006
1967 Other artists
Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
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