Not just a Casual affair

I surprised myself a little in writing no less than eight posts on The Casuals who, by any stretch of the imagination, were a minor pop group of their time and no more than a one hit wonder to a majority of the public who might have heard of them at all.

Casuals

When I started lightspots, I said I would try to avoid reproducing information available elsewhere – discographies, biographies, reeling off a band’s career.  But for The Casuals, to fill in some of that background has felt necessary as it appeared to be barely out there.  What existed was widely scattered and tended to be brief, focusing on their ‘one hit wonder’ status.

I hope something of my appreciation of the band has emerged through what were fairly straight and narrow biographical posts.  But writing them has made me think further about why The Casuals hold a particular appeal for me.

Two aspects spring immediately to mind – the abiding quality (and qualities) of their big hit and the underappreciated elegance of John Tebb’s unique voice.  But there’s more.

Making arrangements

I’m also interested in the role of these 60s arrangers whose talents often seem severely undervalued.  It’s as if the arrangements are regarded as unfortunate necessities for young bands signed to major labels who had to endure their creations being ‘dressed-up’ for commercial success by older, more conservative record company stalwarts.  Well that was how it might have seemed at the time and to rock cognoscenti subsequently whereas by and large, I find the arrangers add a great deal of expertise, colour and interest, taking the music to another level of sophistication rather than reducing it down or blanding it out.

It makes more sense to hear these bands in the round – as an amalgamation of the talents of performers, composers, arrangers and producers rather than focusing only on the frontmen.

There is something I find quite endearing about young groups being nurtured by the talents of a largely older generation who were themselves informed by earlier and other traditions: big band, orchestral, jazz, classical and so called easy listening to name but a few (George Martin obviously springs to mind here).  That collision of the old with the new – psychedelia, rock, experimentalism – produced something rare and unique to the mid-late 60s with everybody benefitting from the cross fertilisation.  I think the ‘old’ was as essential to the ‘new’ in the mix although it tends to be the new which gets the attention.

But there are other aspects of bands like The Casuals which appeal, more personal ones, perhaps, which are harder to pin down but which have quietly crystallised as I’ve written these posts.  Now I’d like to say something about these too.

English modesty

There is sometimes a sense when listening to pop of imagining yourself as part of the band.  Sometimes this might be subtle or what you might call ‘psychic’ – feeling an intense part of the music simply by being a listener or a fan – sometimes it’s much more overt – identifying with particular band members, or relating to a group’s ethos or sympathising with the scene they represent.  I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a rock god (which is perhaps just as well as I was never going to be one).  I don’t much relate to the macho, muscularity of that nor of wanting to hog the limelight.  But I think I can imagine what it might have felt like to be a Casual – part of a working band from the provinces, hoping for that elusive breakthrough hit.  Yes, it’s a  fleeting fantasy of being in a POP group at that time, the comraderie in music, being on a shared quest.  The excitement yet modesty of it appeals.

I feel it in a closer way still with groups such as Honeybus who wrote all their own material but, like The Casuals never made it big. Their lack of grandeur or spectacular success beyond the one hit seems curiously English – defining them as unassuming though they never intended it to be like this of course.  Pete Dello’s  diffidence probably played a part in crashing the band’s career.  Still, I find these qualities immensely appealing and a huge loss once they slipped out of music during the Americanisation of the 70s before being effectively demolished under the weight of international stadium rock in the 80s.

Experimenting with the mainstream

The Casuals’ music may not be the most ambitious and yet it provides an ideal example of how ideas from outside the mainstream come to influence that mainstream and why this is so redolent of the 60s.  The Beatles exemplified this.  The Casuals highly arranged, orchestrated pop sound with its sometime nods to a flower power/psychedelic sensibility would not have been possible two years before and was already cut adrift two years later. The narrowness of this window gives their music an added poignancy.

There is a sense too that because music has moved on so much since then, music which at the time simply did not qualify as ‘artistic’ has acquired a certain piquancy or even potency.  Nothing sounds remotely like it today and we simply don’t have the means – the backgrounds of the arrangers, the jobbing nature of the touring band playing in a myriad small venues, that unadulterated style of smooth ballad singing, the ability to distil something in song primarily through melody – to capture that sound anymore even if we wanted to.

Here come the nice

Another thing which fascinates me about The Casuals’ music is that it is a refinement of quintessential pop in 1968.  The Herd were perhaps its trendy embodiment but The Casuals offered something less modish, less gimmicky, friendlier (‘you’re really too kind’).  Their songs are often characterised by a courtly quality, a niceness, a kind of politeness so that when they do kick-ass (Seven Times Seven) they do so within parameters which are fundamentally pleasant!  To some this might seem like damning with faint praise but I believe that there is room for music which isn’t necessarily utterly outré, world changing, in your face, ‘out there’, banging – and that that music can be appreciated for its particular virtues just as can any other.  It need not be bland, boring or disposable but charming, delightful, understated.

Although I don’t recall hearing The Casuals at the time (being only four in 1968), there is something in their music (as with The Family Dogg) which powerfully takes me back to the late 60s/very early 70s, as if it was in the air when I was a child – the sunshine brass, blissed out harmonies, that ‘honey and buttercups’ vibe.  The Casuals‘ juvenilia themes intensifies this, as if their music describes both my childhood – Toyland, Daddy’s Song – but then also what it might have felt like to have been a teenager in 1968 – I’m thinking Here we Go Round the Mulberry Bush – with fare such as Fool’s Paradise, Sunflower Eyes and even Toy.

Songwriting

I have tried my hand at songwriting and from time to time have borrowed some of the feel of songs like Toyland and Letter Every Month without consciously trying to do so, let alone emulate them.  I just find it’s there as a part of me – the desire to write a three minute, melodic pop song which is modest but in its own way hopefully eloquent, crafted, going beyond guitar, bass and drums – a kind of 1969 Casuals’ single in other words.

I might even post some of these songs up one day…

 


Posts on The Casuals

The Casuals: beyond Jesamine
The Casuals: before Jesamine: 1961- mid 1968
Jesamine Part 1

Jesamine Part 2
When Jesamine Goes: Singles 1968/69
Hour World 1969
With Jesamine Gone: 1970-76

 

The fruits of Grapefruit: Part 2

Part 1 looked at Grapefruit within the 1968 pop scene and staked a claim for the quality and ‘positioning’ of their contribution.  I also reviewed the six entirely new tracks released on Yesterday’s Sunshine: the complete 1967-1968 London sessions [RPM, 2016, Retro 977]. 

Here, I’m concentrating on the twelve tracks comprising Around Grapefruit, their 1968 album, and the alternative (actually the original) versions on Yesterday’s Sunshine.

around-grapefruit

Around Grapefruit

Side One
1. Another Game – 2.51
2. Yesterday’s Sunshine – 3.32
3. Elevator – 2.05
4. Yes – 2.40
5. C’mon Marianne – 2.46
6. Lullaby – 3.29

Side Two
7. Round Going Round – 3.00
8. Dear Delilah – 2.36
9. This Little Man – 2.26
10. Ain’t  It Good – 2.36
11. Theme for Twiggy – 3.15
12. Someday Soon – 3.02

Singles 1968/69

Dear Delilah – 2.36  / Dead Boot – 1.52 [1968]
Elevator – 2.05 / Yes – 2.20 [1968]
C’mon Marianne – 2.46 / Ain’t It Good – 2.36 [1968]
Someday Soon – 3.02 / Theme For Twiggy – 3.15 [1968]
Round Going Round – 2.47 / This Little Man – 2.27 [1969]

Likeable

Ain’t It Good and the harpsichord driven Another Game have a compulsive likeability and show a real command of the genre.  Bizarrely, both were passed over as singles by RCA.  The more obvious Elevator (yes, a classic metaphor on getting high) was a single and with its beaty, propulsive quality was probably one of the most commercial things they did but Elevator didn’t rocket up the charts.

They sound so young and joyful on John Perry’s very 1965/66 Beatlesque B-side to Elevator, Yes (‘Yes it’s happened to me… tonight I am me’)  a youthful tribute to life affirming experience showcasing some fine vocals; Peter Frampton may have had the prettier face but George Alexander’s voice is better than Frampton’s sometimes nasal whine (more on this in Part 1).  It was John Perry’s songs which had brought him to the attention of RCA but with only Yes making it onto vinyl, we can only wonder at the quality of his unrecorded material.

There are very few differences between the original versions of these songs on Yesterday’s Sunshine and the remixed versions on Around Grapefruit.

Captivating

The captivating Yesterday’s Sunshine (surely their masterpiece but why so much louder than everything else on Yesterday’s Sunshine?) languishes in gorgeous melancholy.  A skilful exposition leads into pounding keyboards and that cathartic, vocoder drenched chorus.   It’s the perfect marriage of pop and psychedelia.grapefruit-2a

Dear Delilah (their first single) bends your ears with its phased drums (is that what Shindig means by ‘crispy’?) and there’sthe briefest of classical instrumental passages, whilst quirky B-side Dead Boot comes on like some Fading Yellow obscurity from 1966.

Carnabetian

Instrumentals often get overlooked as mere album filler material but that’s emphatically not the case with Theme for a Lonely Queen (aka Twiggy).  A melotron mood piece with wah-wah Taste of Honey melodic undertones, it conjures up exactly what the title says – an androgynous, waif-like figure drifting by Carnabetian shop windows, wrapped up in her own fragile beauty, so of the moment yet strangely ethereal.   A fully fledged version made it onto Around Grapefruit as Theme for Twiggy but it’s the more minimal san strings original on Yesterday’s Sunshine which best evokes a glacial, haunted dream of swinging London.

Lullaby led to George Alexander being signed to Apple.  The song came to John Lennon’s attention in summer 1967.  Of course, dream like themes run through many of Lennon’s 1966/67 songs and perhaps it was the somnambulant, hallucinogenic qualities of Lullaby which appealed to him.  Known also as Lullaby for a Lazy Day, the Lennon-McCartney produced original (their only dual producer credit) on Yesterday’s Sunshine is a prime piece of English psychedelic pop but it was a slower paced, orchestrated version which made it onto Around Grapefruit.   To my ears the slower pace suits this drowsy song better but the Lennon-McCartney production highlights sonic guitar and sweet backing vocals and is more atmospheric.

I prefer the album version of Round Going Round to the original on grapefruit-2bYesterday’s Sunshine which has brass mixed back so lacks a little punch in that department.  The performance is still fine though.

Odd one out

The only 1967/68 Grapefruit track I don’t get along with is C’mon Marianne.  It just doesn’t sit well with the rest of the group’s output which is so ‘London 1968’.  C’mon Marianne is not bad, in fact it’s perhaps their most spirited vocal performance but choreographed swaying horns and a conservative, frat feel take Grapefruit back in time to where they really don’t want to be.  Who needs covers anyway when your songwriter is George Alexander?  Predictably, RCA seized upon C’mon Marianne as a single (it was a UK No 35) relegating the far more modish Ain’t It Good to be discovered as B-side.

This Little Man is George Alexander in Dead Boot melancholy mood again, adopting that classic generation gap 60s stance of us/them and attempting a reconciliation at the end.  Doesn’t the drum beat part company with the time-signature during those woodwind instrumental breaks?

The Yesterday’s Sunshine alternative take of Someday is stripped down and upbeat and I think works rather better than the slow album finale version although I miss George Alexander’s swinging sax solo.

So there are pros and cons both ways with the proto tracks on Yesterday’s Sunshine and the finished versions on Around Grapefruit.   The clearer sound quality of Yesterday’s Sunshine (the material was sourced from the original masters) is definitely a bonus and occasionally, as on Lullaby, a revelation.

Juiced

Sadly Grapefruit’s post-Pepper intricacies were no longer considered cutting edge come the grittier feel of ’68, even less so by Spring ’69 when Around Grapefruit arrived in the shops.  The album picked up favourable reviews but failed to sell.  Changes at the top of Apple Publishing didn’t further their cause either with American John O’Connor replacing mentor Terry Doran in mid 1968.

Another explanation for their lack of chart success might be that, judging from Youtube performances (OK, mimes) they failed to project as individual pop personalities.  The band comes across as cute but uniform and puppet-like.  Admittedly these are TV performances where they may have been instructed to peform a  certain way and they may have been a different proposition live.

Second half  

That they went on to produce a respectable but ultimately forgettable purple washed, blues follow-up in ’69 is no surprise.  George Alexander wrote all but three of Deep Water’s rather short, ten songs with the remaining three penned by newcomer Robert Wale who also seems to provide most of the rougher sounding vocals.

deep-water

The best track is Alexander’s Deep Water, catchy soul-pop in rock clothes.  Elsewhere Grapefruit embrace boogie and country but often sound a little too serious.  Shunning the trend to expansiveness, the album clocks in inauspiciously at just under thirty minutes.

We can only guess at what might have followed Around Grapefruit if it hadn’t been for the diktats of the age and record company.  Think of the distance between Elevator and Yesterday’s Sunshine, double it, move in the direction of progressive pop and this is what could have been.  Grapefruit might have been the forgotten sound of 1969 pop too.

Fruitless

All that was heard from Grapefruit after Deep Water was a lone 1971 single Universal Party b/w Sha Sha which is like background music compared to Around Grapefruit.

As for their 1968 prime, a stray Long John Baldry-like track, Fall of the Castle (currently available on Youtube) was apparently written for another artist to record and implies there may be yet more Grapefruit to emerge from the archives.

1. Dear Delilah – 2.32
2. Dead Boot – 1.57
3. Breaking Up a Dream – 3.20 *
4. Lullaby [sped-up stereo version] – 3.09 **
5. Another Game – 2.55
6. Elevator – 2.05 **
7. Yes – 2.19 **
8. Ain’t it Good – 2.41 **
9. Sweet Little Miss No Name – 2.36 */**
10. Round and Round [aka Round Going Round] – 3.11**
11. Someday [alternative version] – 2.30 **
12. Somebody’s Turning on the People – 2.14 */**
13. Trying to make it to Monday – 3.08
14. C’mon Marianne – 2.38 **
15. Theme for a Lonely Queen [aka Twiggy] – 3.52**
16. This Little Man – 2.50 **
17. Do What You Want to [aka Learn to Love Me] – 3.31 */**
18. Yesterday’s Sunshine – 3.35 **
19. Someday Soon – 3.03
20. One More Try – 3.16 */**

* previously unreleased in any form
** new tape transfer/multitrack mix

All songs written by George Alexander except #7 Yes, John Perry, #14 C’mon Marianne, L. Russell Brown & Raymond Bloodworth, Four Seasons cover

Produced by Terry Melcher except #4 Lullaby, Lennon-McCartney

Yesterday’s Sunshine: the complete 1967-1968 London sessions
[RPM, 2016, Retro 977]


The fruits of Grapefruit: Part 1

The fruits of Grapefruit: Part 1

grapefruit-yesterdays-sunshine

Grapefruit sound like ’68 pop personified yet commercial success largely eluded them.  Despite Lennon-McCartney endorsement and an Apple association, their singles never made it into the Top 20.

Sounds of ‘68

The pop group of 1968 was The Herd.  Much as I love their production heavy, playfully apocalyptic creations (From the Underworld, Paradise Lost) The Herd owe much to a pre-Pepper DDDBMT sensibility and were actually fairly untouched by psychedelia.

It’s Grapefruit, who encapsulate the sound of post-Pepper ‘68 pop not just with their flute and harpsichord embellishments but in their chord progressions and an all-round trip-friendly sensibility, a youthful, often exuberant take on a colourful, kaleidoscopic world.

Pop-psych, psych-pop?

On a scale between pop and psych, Grapefruit are maybe three quarters pop to one quarter pysch but what a good place to be that was (musically if not commercially) in ‘68.

Seen from the psych end of the scale, July and Blossom Toes may have cornered the warped, time bending side of things but Grapefruit had something more substantial than just treated vocals and uber reverb.  They had brilliantly sparky songs.  The solidly melodic songwriting of George Alexander made sure of that.  George Alexander wrote everything bar two tracks on their first album, Around Grapefruit, and was also their wonderfully clicky bassist.  It’s Alexander’s solid songwriting which puts them above their more radical rivals.

And seen from the other side, the pop side, Grapefruit embrace the demands of psychedelia with a freshness and persistent confidence which their poppier elder peers – Tremeloes, Hollies – sometimes lacked.  There’s no see-sawing between King Midas in Reverse and Jennifergrapefruit-1 Eccles, no resort to supper club fare such as Suddenly You Love Me.

Segments of…

Grapefruit came together via Apple Publishing in 1967.  Terry Doran paired songwriter George Alexander with ex Sugarbeats and Tony Rivers and The Castaways John Perry and Geoff and Pete SwettenhamJohn Lennon christened them and thus Grapefruit was born.  It’s their first album, Around Grapefruit (1968, released 1969) I’m mainly concerned with in these two posts.

Around Grapefruit really impressed me 25 years ago when a then friend gave me a handful of cassettes, one of which was labelled simply: ‘Grapefruit’.  The name meant nothing to me.  I gave it a listen and instantly liked what I heard.  This band didn’t just produce the occasional brilliant pop song, they produced brilliant pop songs across an entire album.

A few years later, I tracked down their Around Grapefruit LP.  The only bad thing about it was the drab, uninspiring ‘grapefruit as ash tray’ cover which failed to hint at the sparkling contents.   That cover must have looked very dated indeed come release in 1969.

Tastes like…

It feels as if there’s been a growing appetite for Grapefruit over the last fifteen years or so.

2002 brought RPM’s 94 Baker Street, a compilation of groups signed to Apple Publishing.  It included a number of alternative takes and unreleased songs by Grapefruit and in many ways marked the beginning of the search for further unused recordings which culminated in May’s release of Yesterday’s Sunshine: the complete 1967-1968 London sessions [RPM, 2016, Retro 977]This gathers together recordings before producer Terry Melchor remixed and redubbed the tapes for the Around Grapefruit album in early 1969, plus there are six entirely new tracks.

grapefruit-around-the-bbcMeanwhile Around Grapefruit was finally given the digitally re-mastered treatment in 2011.  A fourteen track BBC compilation, Around the BBC had appeared four years earlier.

If you’re new to the band, I would say Around Grapefruit is the place to start.  Follow that up with Yesterday’s Sunshine to give new insights into the album.  Several songs are radically different from their finished versions – more on this in Part 2

Fresh fruit

But what of those six entirely new tracks on Yesterday’s Sunshine?

There are two highlights: the cheeky escapade Sweet Little Miss No Name (rather this had made it onto Around Grapefruit in place of C’mon Marianne) and Trying to Make it to Monday in which George shows a more introspective, doubtful face with a melody hinting at both defiance and melancholy.

The other previously unreleased tracks are Somebody’s Turning on the People, Breaking Up a Dream – a choppy instrumental crying out for a vocal (it was never committed to tape) – and the soul party pop of Do What You Want to Do (aka Learn to Love Me).

The sixth track is One More Try.  Better known as Charlotte Rose, this fine George Alexander composition was recorded by The Majority for a January 1969 single.  Grapefruit’s version rocks out a little more though I’d give The Majority’s the edge. 

The new tracks are all worthy contributions to the Grapefruit oeuvre but can’t eclipse their prime cuts: Another Game, Yesterday’s Sunshine, Yes, Lullaby, Ain’t It Good and Theme for a Lonely Queen.

Join me for Part 2 when I’ll listen to Around Grapefruit and its alternative versions with complete track listings.


The fruits of Grapefruit: Part 2

Robin’s Rarities

Saved by the Bell 1968-70I was a little unsure how to tackle this collection of demos and other rarities from 1968-70, comprising CD3 of Saved By the Bell: the Collected Works of Robin Gibb 1968-1970 .  The pieces are not slight but they are, by their very nature, often incomplete or unfinished.  

I gave track-by-track commentaries for Robin’s Reign… Plus (CD1) and the Sing Slowly Sisters Sessions (CD2) but in this post, I’m going to be more selective.

Works in progress  

All 23 tracks here are previously unreleased.  They were never intended to be made publicly available let alone form a coherent album.  They add further weight to the sheer quantity of material Robin produced during his time away from the Bee Gees and his fertile imagination around this time.  They also provide insights into his working practices and how the songs later shaped up.

(Un)easy listening?

With the CD clocking-in at 73.55, hearing it in one sitting isn’t always easy listening.  This is partly because of the raw emotion conveyed pretty much across all tracks, also the slow, sometimes wavering pace of the songs (many of them in ¾ time) and the unadorned sonic quality of many of the recordings.

#2 Janice and #3 Love Just Goes are perhaps the most extreme examples of all of Robin’s tendencies at this time.  The dirge like Janice enjoys a good chorus melody and benefits from plucked then bowed strings but with its heart-wrenching relentlessness coming in at 5.36, is a little too unremittingly sad to be a comfortable listen.   Still, the song’s expressiveness cannot be denied.

The rendition of #4 August October is likewise slow and prolonged, low backing vocals accentuating a mournful air.  Despite a rather splendid ending, August October was to benefit hugely from the contrasting faster pace adopted on the final Robin’s Reign version.

BBC sessions

Sessions for Brian Matthew and Johnnie Walker (#6-10) offer interesting variations on familiar songs and also provide historical insights into the needle-time saving practice of BBC sessions during the 60s and 70s.

#6 Saved By the Bell is a smooth rendition with lots of backing vocal and what sounds like a double tracked vocal whilst #8 August, October is mandolin heavy.

Again I’m struck by the sheer good naturedness of the slightly overlooked #9 Weekend, sounding a little punchier here maybe due to compression.  #13 Give Me a Smile highlights how the bass moves the chorus along.

Robin speaks 

Interviews with Brian Matthew (#7) and David Wigg of The Daily Express (#11) again reveal Robin’s array of projects at this time, most robins-raritiesof which were never seen to see fruition.  It’s interesting to speculate whether they may have done so had he not returned to the Bee Gees’ fold in 1970.

Talking to the always upbeat Brian Matthew, Robin speaks of his ‘unlimited horizon’ for writing and unsurprisingly describes himself as a dreamer.  If you didn’t know of his huge success, he might be any aspiring English songwriter with a head awash with ideas.  The conversation ends in a half humorous, half bewildered fashion.

Unheard of

Then follow a clutch of the most interesting tracks, representing ‘new’ songs.

#12 The Band Will Meet Mr Justice (demo) sounds like and is from 1968, delivered in busking style on acoustic guitar whilst #13 The People’s Public Poke Song (demo) is a nonsense animal song which again wouldn’t have been out of place as a quirkier piece on Bee Gees 1st.   #15 The Girl to Share Each Day (demo) – again acoustic guitar only – is a romantic song from Robin’s perspective of invisibility and vulnerability.  #16 Come Some Halloween or Christmas Day (demo), with its Indian Gin and Whiskey Dry-like melody meanders rather (well it is a demo) and would benefit from a little trimming.  #17 Heaven in My Hands is slightly ragged in places with snatches of weird lyrics.

Organic

#18 Most of My Life (demo) is the final track on Robin’s Reign and not one of my favourites but here it is set to organ only which inadvertently creates the odd effect of Robin in a deserted church, seated at the instrument, singing this to himself, recalling the wonderful Lord Bless All.   The plaintive quality of Robin’s voice makes an organ pairing particularly expressive.

#19 Goodbye Cruel World (demo) sees Robin ‘crying and wanting to go home’ whilst #21 Don’t Go Away (demo) offers more soulful, anguished vocals.  The likable #20 Down Came the Sun (demo) was later to appear on Robin’s Reign.

Two final tracks are credited to Robin Gibb Orchestra and Chorus with both #22 Moon Anthem and #23 Ghost of Christmas Past sounding most fulsome after the primitivism of what has gone before – fitting attempts to provide finales for this disparate collection.

Thank you

This CD is essentially for Robin devotees.  The material is not lacking, it’s just that absorbing a body of ‘work in progress’ is inevitably not the nuanced, satisfying experience of a Robin’s Reign or Sing Slowly Sisters.  The value of the rarities is largely scholarly and completist.

As I mentioned, I also find a one-sitting listen quite draining.  The insularity and emotionally charged nature of these songs – fervent, tender, passionate, sentimental sometimes almost disturbed – make heavy demands on the listener.  It’s as if Robin has retreated from the many mansions splendour of Odessa into just one (windowless) room.

None of this detracts from Andrew Sandoval and his team’s huge and worthy achievement in allowing us all to hear this material after four decades.  Nor from Robin Gibb for writing it.

Complete track listing CD3:

1. Alexandria Good Time – 3.14
2. Janice – 5.36
3. Love Just Goes – 5.06
4. August October “Agosto Ottobre” (Italian) –  2.34
5. One Million Years “Un Millione de Ani” (Italian) – 4.13
6. Saved By the Bell (BBC) – 2.52
7. Robin Talks With Brian Matthew (BBC) – 1.37
8. August October (BBC) – 2.22
9. Weekend (BBC) – 2.05
10. Give Me a Smile (BBC) – 3.29
11. Robin Talks With David Wigg (BBC) – 1.41
12. The Band Will Meet Mr Justice (demo) – 2.46
13. The People’s Public Poke Song (demo) – 1.49
14. Indian Gin and Whiskey Dry (demo) – 1.53
15. The Girl to Share Each Day (demo) – 2.14
16. Come Some Halloween or Christmas Day (demo) – 3.43
17. Heaven In My Hands (demo) – 2.11
18. Most of My Life (demo) – 3.51
19. Goodbye Good World (demo) – 3.08
20. Down Came the Sun (demo) – 2.47
21. Don’t Go Away (demo) – 5.10
22. Moon Anthem (Robin Gibb Orchestra & Chorus) – 5.34
23. Ghost of Christmas Past (Robin Gibb Orchestra & Chorus) – 7.43

Saved By the Bell: the Collected Works of Robin Gibb 1968-1970 [Rhino, LC 02982, June 2015]

 


Reviews of Saved By the Bell CDs 1 and 2:

Robin’s Reign… Plus
Sing Slowly Sisters

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

Massachusetts, Words and First of May: the ones that got away

 

By leaving out these giants from my Top 50, I’ve not purposefully adopted a connoisseur’s perspective, despising common artefacts in favour of polishing some obscurities.  I’ve tried to consider each song truly on its merits.  My No 1, I Started a Joke, was a major hit and one of the Bee Gees’ best known songs from their early period.

Still, a Bee Gees’ Top 50 which doesn’t include Massachusetts, Words and First of May is a bit like a Beatles Top 50 which doesn’t include She Loves You, A Day In the Life and I am the Walrus.  It requires an explanation.

So over three posts, I’ll comment on these songs and try to justify their omission, starting with Massachusetts.