With a recent Grammy Awards salute, a new catalogue deal, and the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Fever, the music of the Bee Gees has been front and center in 2017. Ace Records has joined the celebration of the brothers Gibb with a new entry in the label’s long-running Songwriters Series. To Love Somebody: The Songs of The Bee Gees 1966-1970 pulls into focus the early professional years of Barry, Robin, and Maurice, with 24 choice cover versions of songs both familiar and lesser-known. These performances, in particular, underscore the deep affection held by the Gibbs for American soul and R&B, but the collection also touches upon pop, rock, and beyond.
Barry Gibb famously said that “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” was written for Andy Williams, and indeed, the pop legend did record a version. But the honors here go not to Andy, but to the Rev. Al Green, who ramps up the song’s sensuality. Southern soul balladeers took a shine to the songs of the Bee Gees; witness James Carr’s torrid “To Love Somebody” from a fraught Goldwax session, Percy Sledge’s smoldering take on the Gibbs’ death row opus “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” Bettye Swann’s urgent “Words,” or The Staple Singers’ Muscle Shoals-bred “Give a Hand, Take a Hand.” Indeed, a powerful strain of gospel fervor existed in the Bee Gees’ songwriting from the group’s early days. Lulu tapped into it for her Atlantic Records sessions produced by the Dusty in Memphis team of Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler, and Arif Mardin, represented here by the raw “Bury Me Down by the River.”
The Gibbs’ songs were remarkably malleable, however. Barry Gibb has maintained that the group’s 1969 chart-topper “Massachusetts” was penned as a country tune despite the rich pop arrangement of their original record. Leave it to Team Ace to have uncovered a twangy rendition from “Dizzy” and “Swee’ Pea” hitmaker Tommy Roe. His 1979 revival has a smooth C&W gloss but remains true to the sweet emotion of the song. Two Jamaican artists – Pat Kelly and John Holt – bring altogether new colors to their reggae-fied interpretations of “I Started a Joke” and “Morning of My Life,” respectively.
Contemporary rockers and pop stars took their turn with the Gibbs’ catalogue from the beginning. South African soul-pop queen Sharon Tandy delivered a stirring “World” in 1968, one year after the song’s debut on the Bee Gees’ Horizontal LP. Sandie Shaw’s “[With The] Sun in My Eyes” (1969) took another Horizontal track and rendered it in hauntingly spare style with just organ, bass and flute accompanying her unadorned voice. Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon, and later to produce James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and others) helmed Manfred Mann singer Paul Jones’ dramatic “And the Sun Will Shine,” enlisting an all-star cadre of musicians including Jeff Beck on guitar, Paul Samwell-Smith on bass, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, and a certain moonlighting Beatle Paul on drums! Jose Feliciano’s own intimate style melded well with Odessa‘s “First of May,” released by the singer-guitarist in the same year of 1969.
The Bee Gees backed the band Marbles (actually named by Barry) on “Only One Woman,” written by the brothers for the band. The song featured Graham Bonnet as lead vocalist, offering the kind of full-throated, hard-rock lead that would propel him to fame as lead singer of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow at that band’s height. The cheekily-named Velvett Fogg (closet Mel Tormé fans, perhaps?) gave the heavy Vanilla Fudge-style treatment, with prominent organ and crunchy power chords, to the evocative “New York Mining Disaster,” the Bee Gees’ debut American single. Los Bravos, the Spanish band best known for the classic oldie “Back is Black,” gives a tough reading to one of the Gibbs’ Australian tunes, the driving “Like Nobody Else.” The Status Quo added a wee bit of muscle to “Spicks and Specks,” the Bee Gees’ breakthrough single down under, with their largely faithful 1968 recording.
In addition to Marbles’ “Only One Woman,” the Bee Gees are heard on other tracks here including April Byron’s absolutely delightful girl group-style “He’s a Thief,” which sounds far more like 1650 Broadway than Hurtsville, Australia, and Ronnie Burns’ Rubber Soul-era Beatles-esque “Exit Stage Right,” which was recorded with one of the Gibbs’ discarded backing tracks. The single-named Jon cut the tempo-shifting psychedelic nugget “Town of Tuxley Toymaker (Part I),” one of two tracks from a session with the brothers’ participation.
As per the norm for this series, To Love Somebody is wonderfully packaged, boasting a 16-page color booklet with track-by-track liner notes provided by compiler Tony Berrington. Nick Robbins has remastered all songs for uniformly fine sound quality. With the Bee Gees remembered today not just for their disco hits but for the breadth of their remarkable catalogue, there’s never been a better time to rediscover their earliest songs in a host of refreshing and varied interpretations. Bring on Volume Two!
- World – Sharon Tandy (Atco 6556, 1968) (*)
- How Can You Mend a Broken Heart – Al Green (Hi LP SHL 32070, 1972)
- To Love Somebody – James Carr (Goldwax 340, 1969) (*)
- I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You – Percy Sledge (Atlantic LP 588 220 1969) (*)
- I Can’t See Nobody – Nina Simone (RCA 47-9447, 1968)
- Words – Bettye Swann (Capitol LP ST 190, 1969)
- Bury Me Down by the River – Lulu (Rhino CD 8122-79948-8, 2007)
- Give a Hand, Take a Hand – The Staple Singers (Stax LP STS-2034, 1971)
- Only One Woman – Marbles (Polydor 56272, 1968) (*)
- New York Mining Disaster 1941 – Velvett Fogg (Pye LP NSPL 18272, 1969)
- Red Chair Fade Away – Sidewalk Society (Fruits de Mer CRUSTACEAN 11, 2010)
- Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You – Goon Moon (Ipecac CD IPC 86, 2007)
- Like Nobody Else – Los Bravos (Decca F 22682, 1967) (*)
- Sun in My Eyes – Sandie Shaw (Pye LP NSPL 17323, 1968)
- And the Sun Will Shine – Paul Jones (Columbia DB 8379, 1968) (*)
- Spicks and Specks – The Status Quo (Pye LP NSPL 18220, 1968)
- He’s a Thief – April Byron (Down Under UK 1513, 1966) (*)
- Exit Stage Right – Ronnie Burns (Spin EK-1789, 1967) (*)
- Town of Tuxley Toymaker, Part I – Jon (Leedon LK-1662, 1967) (*)
- Maypole News – David Garrick (Pye 7N 17685, 1969) (*)
- I Started a Joke – Pat Kelly (Third World LP TDWD 2, 1978)
- Morning of My Life – John Holt (Trojan 7975, 1973)
- Massachusetts – Tommy Roe (Warner Bros. 8800, 1979)
- First of May – Jose Feliciano (RCA LP LSP-4185. 1969)
Stereo except (*) mono