Yesterday was the birthday of Barry Gibb (center), someone I wouldn’t have felt any compulsion to comment about, most of my life. I liked some of the Bee Gees songs that were on the radio between 1967 and 1971. Sometime in 1973, my older sister Kathy picked up The Best of the Bee Gees, and I was fine with pretty much everything on there. And a few I still have affection for—today’s song, “Massachusetts,” “Words,” “I Started a Joke,” and especially “1941 New York Mining Disaster” and “Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You.” I had no interest in the Bee Gees’ disco phase at all. Those songs don’t live in my memory anyway.
All of the above songs but for “Words” and “Joke” are on The Bee Gees’ 1st (the one with the artlessly “psychedelic” segment beneath the band photo on the cover), which not too long ago I picked up used with the original purple and orange (or magenta and rust, if you want to go that way) Atco label (Atco was yellow by the time I started buying records) and it’s a good record—it came out when Barry was 19 and the twin brothers, Robin and Maurice, were 17. I was inspired to seek out early Bee Gees disks by a friend and former student Jim who proselytized pretty convincingly for the Bee Gees when their first four albums got “the remastered with stereo and mono versions on one disc” treatment sometime in the Aughts. So. Barry Gibb.
I tend to think of Robin when I think of the Bee Gees because I associate him with the more introspective songs. But Barry is the one who looks like he should be a pop star, or a guy living in a commercial, what with his wind-blown leonine looks. It makes him—in his incarnation of the later Seventies—look very much a “popular sensation.” And even though my intro to all this rock-pop stuff was the overwhelmingly popular sensation called The Beatles, the way they engineered their move from purveyors of winning tunes to poets of wigged-out glory lodged in my brain-pan with the force of a strong thesis. That’s how you play the rock-pop game and thus avoid pap. You might be shameless media darlings, so you have to queer that. Then you establish your own ground. But if you begin in the shadow of The Beatles—sometimes the Bee Gees’ songs, on the radio, were mistaken for “new Beatles” tunes and “Lonely Days” sounds like it might be an Abbey Road outtake—then you might end up in Disco Heaven. Fear not for it raineth mighty bozo bucks therein. Anyway, The Beatles themselves—look what happened to them severally. Not exactly “toppermost of the poppermost” (well, except for McC) and not even, most of the time, challenging their own legacy. Sad.
|more like the Teeth Gees|
Anyway, this post is about “To Love Somebody,” a pure radio song that does all it needs to do, beginning with delicate French horn, and then the flailing strings in the big hook, and that big sustained “awwww” that Barry delivers before the final full chorus and which, ever after, you keep waiting for. Also, there’s the layered harmonies—and I like The Bee Gees better than Simon & Garfunkel (another of my sister’s buys), for that sometimes, and almost, at times, as much as The Beatles in that regard. Them there Gibb brothers sing together really well. What hooks you is not the quality of any one voice, but the way they blend them, overlapping and soloing as needed. Voices. I used to think of them as only a harmony band—like The Mamas and the Papas, or The Turtles, or even The Beach Boys—but they do have some interesting arrangement savvy too. The albums have textures.
|Barry, Robin, Maurice|
But there is much to the purpose in how Barry sings lead on “Somebody”—falteringly. And when he says “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 . . . I ain’t got you” you gotta feel for this guy. The “what good” part sounds so crushed. As a “I don’t have you” song, it really makes its case, if passion of declaration is enough to carry the day. And I gotta figure that the move from shy and uncertain to hitting alpha-sounding notes is the very thing to make certain types swoon, and thus the mating ritual begins. It’s the kind of song that sends you out into the streets “to love somebody.” To find out what it’s like. Since the challenge of the song is that “you” can’t possibly conceive of what this dude is going through for “your” sake, or her sake. It’s like a gauntlet thrown, when you get right down to it.You piker, you don't even know what love is.