Round the Dial
Wednesday 15 January @ 12:22:35
by Tom Hallett
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “People accuse us of being nothing more than a disco band...but they don’t know what they’re talking about. If you listen to our records, you’ll find that there’s dance music, but there are also ballads...and there are some very beautiful, non-danceable songs, too.”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “I Started A Joke” -—The Bee Gees
*Note: ‘Round The Dial will continue with our “CD’s I Should’ve Reviewed In 2002” list next week. This week’s column is dedicated to the memory of Bee Gees co-founder/bassist Maurice Gibb, who passed away on Sunday, 1/12/03, at the age of 53.
So, you’re one o’ them tough guys/gals who thinks The Bee Gees were just a buncha fruity, polyester-wearin’ ’70s music hogs, eh? Or maybe you’re aware that the band was about more than just chest hair, gold chains and falsetto screeches, but you’re just too embarrassed to admit it. After all, there are all those really hip, trendy bands-of-the-moment out there to chat about with yer chums, and who really cares about some moldy oldy dudes from England, anyway? Well, I do. Sure, when I was 17, I would’ve rather %@!#$& rusty razor blades than admit that I liked The Bee Gees—and truthfully, the music they were playing when I was that age was pretty atrocious.
They’d just sold about a billion copies of the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, and starred in that horrific all-star Beatles bungle, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” (Jesus, even George Burns made it into that embarrassing piece of claptrap)—definitely not their glory days. Anyway, over the years I began discovering the Bee Gees’ earlier hits (they released their first album in 1965 and began a twelve-year stretch of top-ten hits in 1967), which brings us to why I’m writing this column. I think it’s important, now that co-founder Maurice Gibb has gone to that great groove-land in the sky, that people know how %@!#$&ing cool the Bee Gees were back in their prime.
And speaking of Maurice, one really weird Bee Gees trivia note: On the inner gatefold sleeve of the Bee Gees’ 1979 album Spirits Having Flown, the trick photography shows the “Spirit” flying out of Maurice and over the heads of the other two Brothers Gibb. Hmmm—do we have another Skynyrd’s Street Survivors-type (the Southern rockers’ last album before several members were killed in a fiery plane crash featured the band surrounded in flames, and was quickly pulled from store shelves once news of Ronnie Van Zandt and co.’s deaths broke) album cover conspiracy theory here?
But I digress—the history of the Bee Gees is readily available on the web and in a stack of decent, cheap paperback bios—you don’t need me to lay out the details—what’s important are the songs—at least a dozen undeniable classics that Maurice Gibb either co-wrote, sang, sang on, or played bass or guitar on. And make no mistake about it, Maurie was a killer bass player, steering some of the group’s earliest hits from dreamy psychedelia to snap-a-licious pop to raw, blue-eyed soul. Yes, the disco years sucked, and no, no one ever needs to hear “More Than A Woman” again, but before America and the big business, corporate side of rock ’n’ roll got ahold of ’em, the Bee Gees were one bad-ass singing/songwriting crew. I blame the temptations and sinful sensations the boys discoverd in the good ole U.S.A. on their eventual downfall—they were blinded by them bright lights on Broadway. But I gotta make my case for their early work, so I’ve put a list (and a worthy defense) together below for Maurice and his brothers Barry and Robin—and if even one person reads this, gets curious, an’ checks out these tunes to find some meaning, joy, or solace, then me an’ the Bee Gees have done our jobs. An’ that ain’t no jive talkin’, turkey.
THE BEST OF THE
(Or, Blame It All On Broadway)
1 “Holiday,” 1967. A haunting, lushly-orchestrated slice of deathly beautiful love rock. Lee Hazelwood must’ve %@!#$& his pants when he heard this one. Sample lyric: “Ooh, it’s a funny day/Don’t believe that it’s all the same/Can’t think what I just said/But there’s something upon my head...” Best part of the tune: Chorus of “Bee bee bee bee bee bee bee bee, bee bee bee bee bee bee....” Serious competition for all late Sixties chart-makers.
2 “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You,” 1968. An almost countrified ballad with driving piano, rippling flute, and downright jumpy p sion. A heartfelt plea for help to a preacher from a man who’s got a serious love jones, and a song that today’s phony, scene-conscious playas could take a lesson from. This is ROMANTIC, dude. Sample lyric: “Well I laughed but that didn’t work/And it’s only her love that keeps me wearing this look/Now I’m crying, but deep down inside/Well I did it to him, now it’s my turn to die...” Best part of the tune: Soaring harmonies over wall o’ sound orchestra and to-die-for harmonies—Phil Spector, eat your heart out. Wait, I bet you did when you heard this back in ’68.
3 “Words,” 1968. Starts out kinda cheesy, but will grab you by the throat and not let go by the third line: “This world, has lost its glory/Let’s start a brand new story now, my love/Right now...” Sure, Barry’s voice has a weird, shaky quality to it on this song, but it’s nothing you don’t love about Lucinda Williams these days. Bottom line, “Words” is a wonderful play on words, and like Barry says, “It’s only words/And words are all I have, to take your heart away.” Best part of the tune: “Da da da da da da da” chorus. Rufus Wainwright, this song awaits your lusty little throat, my friend.
4 “I Started A Joke,” 1969. I used to get kinda bummed when I’d hear this song on the radio after lil’ Bee Gee Andy Gibb died—I guess I felt a little guilty for making so much fun of the guy once I realized how %@!#$&ed up pop music was getting in the early ’90s. Jesus, Andy Gibb sounds like heaven compared to the %@!#$& they play on pop radio now. But once again, I digress—this is one of the saddest songs ever recorded. Yeah, it’s rife with self-pity and egotism, but who doesn’t need to indulge in a little of that particular juju once in awhile just to keep their sanity? Sample lyric: “And I fell out of bed/Hurting my head/From things that I’d said/’Til I finally died which started the whole world living/Oh, if I’d only seen, that the joke was on me...” Best part of the tune: Harp and xylophone combined with absolutely angelic backing vocals, “ahhh-ing” like cherubim welcoming our suicidal narrator to that Great Rock ’N’ Roll Band In The Beyond. Sublime.
5 “Spicks And Specks,” 1965. Not a radio hit, at least not in America, but a wild, rollicking ride through (totally macho, sexist) Sixties pop-a-delia that kicks off with bouncy piano, martial snare, and driving bass. Sample lyric: “Where is the sun that shone on my head/The sun in my life/It is dead, it is dead/Where are the girls/That I left far behind/The spicks and the specks/Of the girls on my mind...” This is the Bee Gees’ own “Under My Thumb,” baby. Best part of the tune: The dramatic break in the middle that encapsulates the best of Sixties pop radio, and the sadly triumphant, wailing horn on the fade-out. Totally hook-o-matic, man.
6 “(The Lights Went Out In) Massachusetts,” 1967. Probably the most impassioned ode to ole Mass ever laid down on tape before the Scud Mountain Boys came out with their gorgeous final album of that title a few years back—a point especially worth noting since this one’s coming from guys who were born in England and raised in Australia. A soothing, sad symphony of loneliness and desperation that’s got some little girl crying right now in Brisbane, Boston, and Bath, and the beginning of the Bee Gees’ eventually fatal fascination with America that culminated with the disco-y “Nights On Broadway” a few years later. Sample lyric: “And the lights are going down in Massachusetts/And Massachusetts/Is one place that I have seen...” Best part of the tune: All of it.
7 “To Love Somebody,” 1967. One of the greatest white-boy soul cuts of all time, and not a trace of smug irony or patronizing lampooning to be found. If you can’t get her to kiss you to this song, you might as well pack it in, pal. Sample lyric: “You don’t know what it’s like/To love somebody, to love somebody, the way I love you...” Best part of the tune: When big, bad, macho Barry falls to his knees like a baby and just gives it up to her—you right, mama, I’m nothin’ but a dawg and I’m nothin’ without you: “I’m a man/Can’t you see what I am?/I live and I breathe for you/But what good does it do/If I ain’t got you?” %@!#$&ing invincible. Check out Slobberbone’s ass-kicking cover on their latest album, Slippage, for a modern, Texas-style update.
8 “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You,” 1967. Another one that didn’t chart on this side of the pond, but man, what a cool dive into the psychedelic pool this track is. Kicking off with bizarre, spine-tingling monk chants, the song suddenly morphs into a dead-on (Syd Barrett-era) Pink Floyd knock-off, dripping with dilysergic drama, and then just as quickly slithers back to monk-ville. Then it’s back to acid-land. Man, these guys got ahold of some Owsley, or at least some Sandoz, I’m tellin’ ya. No wonder Maurice switched to booze. Only Andy Warhol -or maybe Frank Zappa—could possibly have directed a credible video for this mind-boggling freak-out of a song. If you ever thought the Bee Gees were just wimp-rock pussies, this one will turn your world upside down, pal. Best part of the tune: The mind-melding, stomach-churning fade-out—bring your carsick pills for this one, kids.
9 “New York Mining Disaster 1941 (Have You Seen My Wife, Mr. Jones)” 1967. This tune brings the number of really %@!#$&ing weird, chart-making songs written about people being buried alive in mines to three—the other two, of course, being “Timothy” by The Buoys (Written by “Piña Colada Song” guy Rupert Holmes, about three guys who’re trapped in a cave-in and end up eating the smallest of the group—Timothy) and “Big John” by Jimmy Dean (Yeah, the guy who hawks sausages on TV these days), which was about this big bad MFer who held up the cracking beams of a mine long enough for his co-workers to escape, but died himself. Macabre, huh? Well, so is this little nugget by the Bee Gees. Our narrator sings through a hole, apparently, to some guy named Mr. Jones, imploring him not to speak too loud and cause a cave-in and asking him if he’s seen his wife. Very strange, but very cool. Sample lyric: “I keep straining my ears to hear a sound/Maybe someone is digging underground/Or have they given up and all gone home to bed/Thinking those who once existed must be dead?” Some folks swore this song was a Beatles track when they first heard it, which is silly, but I bet Lennon (and Alice Cooper) dug the %@!#$& outta this psycho little ditty.
10 “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” 1971. Probably done better by soul legend Al Green, but still a gorgeous, harmony-laced slice of heaven that anybody who’s ever been on the losin’ end of love would happily fall into and drown. Sample lyric: “I can still feel the breeze/That rustles through the trees/And misty memories of days gone by/We could never see tomorrow/No one said a word about/The sorrow...” Best part of the tune: Once again, the spot-on harmonies and “Da da da da da, la la la la” chorus that takes the whole ball o’ wax home. Essential listening.
11 “Lonely Days,” 1970. Starts out with hesitant piano and sweet-as-songbird harmonies: “Good morning, Mr. Sunshine/You brighten up my day/Come sit beside me/In your way/I see you every morning/Outside the restaurant/The music plays so nonchalant/Da da da...” then warps into a pounding, driving, frenzy of hand-clappin’, drum-slappin’, rock n’ roll joy: “Lonely days/Lonely nights/Where would I be without my woman...” This is Church, baby, replete with Memphis-style horns and all the hell-yes-and-hallelujah you could ask for. Best part of the tune: The dramatic middle break, and at the end when Barry starts talk-singing over them horns and the Bros’ harmonies, the song rises above all rhyme and reason and becomes an anthem unto itself. Footstompin’, ball-bustin’, over-the-top pop. Killer.
12 “Run To Me,” 1972. The last of the pre-disco smashes, a sexy, not-so-sly come-on from an older, wiser, (dirty-minded) feller to an impressionable younger female acquaintance (You know the type—he says he just wants to be your friend and ends up trying to stick his tongue down your throat at some party—“C’mon, bay-beh, ah jes’ wan’ talk atchoo...”). He’s slick, he’s rich, he’s got more chest hair than the monkey on BJ And The Bear—he’s Barry Gibb, and he probably got more nookie than he knew what to do with singing lines like: “Run to me/Whenever you’re lonely/Run to me/If you need a shoulder/Now and then/You need someone older/So darlin’ you run to me...” and, “...and when you’re out in the cold/No one beside you/And no one to hold/Am I unwise to open up your eyes/To love me?” Well, no, you’re not unwise to open up her eyes, if some cradle-robbin’ is what yer after, Bear. I tell you whut, Barry Gibb was the high-pitched, white Barry White, baby, and nobody’s come along who’s been able to replace him yet.
That Barry, he was one wild and crazy guy, but hey, he started the joke, so why not let him finish it? Which he did, once the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever” came out and he donned that infamous white suit. That fortuitous but ill-fated move haunted Maurice to the end—living long enough to see a whole generation look upon his musical canon as just a footnote to the Me Generation must’ve helped cause the stress that led to his bowel obstruction and heart attack. Not a very romantic way to cash out for a guy who co-wrote songs like the ones above, but then I’m guessin’ that wherever he is now, he’s not caring too much about what any of us are thinking. So really, I didn’t write this column for Maurice, even though I’ll miss him (or what he used to represent musically, anyway), and I didn’t really write it for you, either. Hell, if you’ve hated the Bee Gees your whole life, I’m not gonna change your mind now. Naw, I wrote this column for me, so I could sit here and make a kick-ass mix tape of cool Bee Gees tunes for a pal and write about a guy who’s given me a whole passel of great musical moments. So here’s to you—er—me, Maurice. Cheers, and RIP. Until next time—make yer own damn news. PS: My sincere apologies to anyone who was hoping for a Hot Ticket from me this week, I’m in the process of undergoing some minor surgery (don’t worry, it’s not the liver—yet), and will be a bit distracted over the next few weeks. I’ll make it up to yaz, word up.
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed in this column, or you’d just like to complain that I didn’t include your favorite Bee Gees classic in this list (pre-1972, please), send replies to: href=TMygunn777@aol.com>TMygunn777@aol.com.