Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Bee Gees 1st

The Beatles' influence has been a substantial thrust in the music industry for more than 55 years.  There are artists in which the stimulus is obvious - ELO comes to mind - or those like Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins for whom the influence is only subtly apparent (Corgan states that The Beatles and The Beach Boys were his greatest inspiration).  When one thinks of the Bee Gees, "Stayin' Alive" is the obvious allusion; one couldn't be further removed from Penny Lane. (At AM, we’d like to state categorically that we never stepped foot in a discotheque, that we never hoped they'd play "Nights on Broadway" – but that would be a lie.)

And yet, despite their reign as the ultimate disco stars, there are indeed other Bee Gees with a string of Beatlesque hits spanning a four-year period from 1967 to 1971 (beginning with "New York Mining Disaster, 1941"). The LP, Bee Gees 1st, fits right next to Sgt. Pepper et al with its psychedelic pop, baroque meanderings and sumptuous harmonies. With an album cover designed by Klaus Voorman (Revolver), it's easy to compare the Brothers Gibb to the Beatles during this era, yet the Bee Gees had an originality of their own that highlighted odd time signatures, Renaissance-era cathedral sounds and mellotron, Moody Blues style.

After auditioning for and being signed to Polydor Records (ATCO in the U.S.), the Bee Gees were hailed as "The Most Significant New Talent Of 1967." Bee Gees 1st ended the year at No. 7 on the U.S. charts and No. 8 in the U.K. The album featured 14 tracks spawning three top 30 hits, all originals and chock full of progressive pop, melancholy harmonies, orchestral arrangements and shades of psychedelia. Rhythm and blues influences abounded as well; indeed, "To Love Somebody" was originally written for Otis Redding and went on to be recorded by 250 other artists.

For me, "Holiday" holds significance as the first single I ever bought with my own money. With my help it was the first Bee Gees song to become a rock standard. "Holiday" is an oddly arranged track with a structure strictly orchestral and without percussion (other than an out-of-nowhere snare drum beat during the “dee-dee-dee-dee-dee-dee" bridge). The bridge brilliantly reappears as a strange, unresolved coda at song's end, leaving the ending hanging in a fashion that suits the unanswered questions Robin Gibb poses throughout his vaguely poetic lyrics. ("It's something I think's worthwhile/If the puppet makes you smile/If not then you're throwing stones, throwing stones, throwing stones.” - I don’t know, either, but how cool is that?) Yet for all the oddity of the structure and lyrics, Barry Gibb's melody is so hauntingly beautiful, with some of the most magical backing harmonies (in an era of harmony), that "Holiday" remains one of psychedelia's most remarkable tunes.  The band would follow it up with a string of ethereal, top-notch hits that included "Massachusetts," "Words," "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" and "I Started a Joke," one of rock's most melancholy tunes.

Bee Gees 1st is a psychedelic classic and orchestral pop masterpiece - easily one of the ten most melodic albums of original material ever released, and by the youngest band ever to record an out and out classic album (Barry was 19 and Robin and Maurice incredibly only 17). It also (improbably) seems to be the first indisputably psychedelic album released by a U.K. band outside the Beatles, when it hit the shops in late July '67, though it seems unlikely that no British act released a clearly psychedelic album in the year following Revolver. One might include Donovan’s Sunshine Superman, but that wasn't released in the UK until June 67 (Aug '66 in the USA) and I would categorize it more as hippie-folk rather than indisputable psychedelia. The Bee Gees were a real group then - a five piece, with drums and lead guitar. The sound quality and production is first rate and the orchestral arrangements (by Billy Shepherd) are the best of the era, second only to George Martin's work with the Beatles. (Incidentally Billy Shepherd is not even mentioned on the album sleeve!) Bee Gees 1st reached a modest No. 8 in the U.K., but the Bee Gees were triumphant in the U.S.A. and the album yielded 3 American hits.