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.

Bee Gees’ Home Page

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.

Bee Gees’ Home Page

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.

Bee Gees’ Home Page

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

Bee Gees’ Home Page

Words

By Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocal: Barry
Album Best of Bee Gees 1969 [stereo]
Single A-side 1968 


 

“Words are all I have”

I can appreciate what a good melody Words has but, never one of my Bee Gees’ favourites, it’s just been irrevocably ruined for me by Boyzone’s gloopy 1996 cover which of course went to #1.  Worse still were the TV talent imitations of Boyzone’s imitation which followed in its wake.

A strong song isn’t ruined by a pale or third-rate cover, so it’s not that.  It’s that Boyzone bring out all the elements of the song I like least – a kind of cloyingness and too blatant tug at the heartstrings through an assumed humility.

Gloopy

Nevertheless, by singing with an overall sameness they do Barry – and us – the favour of highlighting the dynamic variance of his vocal, the dropaway as he sings the end-of-the-line ‘story’/‘glory’ rhymes, crucial to the song but cleverly underplayed by its structure.

I’m probably ill-disposed to Words because its commercial success in 1968 seems to exemplify the gradual phasing out of the brothers’ quirkier, pop-psych ingredients and a move towards a near-future dominated by ‘romantic’ ballads.  Words, intended as a single for Cliff Richard, is a major step forward on this journey.

FIrst of May

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

Bee Gees’ Home Page

Massachusetts

By Barry, Maurice & Robin Gibb
Lead Vocals: Robin, Barry & Maurice
Album Horizontal 1968
Single A-side, 1967


“And the lights all went down…”

In Life With the Bee Gees I explained how my earliest acquaintance with the band was inextricably linked to Massachusetts and my feelings towards the song at the time.  Some residue of that still holds true.

Fifty years after Massachusetts‘ release, I’m less concerned with whether the song is an ‘honest’ or original evocation of flower-power as what it tries to impart emotionally.

That certain something

The obliqueness of most Bee Gees’ songs works in their favour but Massachusetts hints at something without ever declaring what that could be.  And that’s not intriguing.  It’s just frustrating.

What was the experience of being in Massachusetts?  What left its mark upon the singer?  Was it the place itself or someone the singer met there? Massachusetts doesn’t provide any clues, giving the song a kind of vacant core.

Pedant’s protest?

Adding to its sense of slight pointlessness is the fact that Massachusetts isn’t a place anyway but a region.  This wouldn’t matter much if the song managed to convey a proper sense of mystery (the brothers chose the name because they liked its sound).

Untouched

So Massachusetts’ spuriousness isn’t so much that it taps into a kind of flower-power drifter sensibility far too calculatively, (‘gotta hitch a ride to San Fransisco, gotta do the things I wanna do’) as its curious ability to leave me untouched.

I’ve heard the song – by far the blandest, least interesting track on Horizontal – numerous times but still Massachusetts is one place I have never been to.

Words

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

Bee Gees’ Home Page