Finding a deeper love for The Bee Gees
>> As an indie kid in the late 1980s and early 1990s, disco was something of a dirty word. All those terrible fancy dress nights with curly wigs and flares, soundtracked by Barry Gibb’s grating falsetto and John Travolta dance moves. Couldn’t these people see that it was much cooler to hide behind a floppy fringe and shamble about a dark dancefloor in Cherry DMs to Kitchens Of Distinction?
See? How come they didn’t make one of the biggest selling records of all time? Ahem.
It’s a bit of a stretch to say that, with age and experience, I’ve come to love Stayin’ Alive, but I can at least appreciate now what The Bee Gees did for music. That was the crux of the first piece I did for The National last week: combined with Donna Summer’s death just days previously I looked at disco’s incredible influence on the direction of pop. Neither act invented the form but they certainly made it a commercial success which then cross pollinated into the work of, well, almost everyone. Disco may have died in name by the early 1980s, but its constituent parts are still present in house, pop, techno and hip-hop.
Even my writing on disco cross-pollinated… into another piece on the last Bee Gee standing, Barry Gibb. Working through his career for this extended profile meant for the first time I properly listened to their pre disco work. Of course, everyone knows the harmonic ballads such as Massachusetts – slightly croonsome but nicely redolent of the time.
But the stand out record of that time is the most bizarre. Odessa, from 1969, is a concept album of sorts. Listen to it now, and it sounds as brilliantly bonkers as it did then. There are country and western songs, flamenco, bluegrass and a blast of Baa Baa Black Sheep. It’s become a curio in their career – not least because it completely flopped. But with hindsight, it says more about Barry Gibb’s never-ending quest for pop perfection than the disco numbers that would follow. It revealed an adaptable songwriter who wasn’t constrained by genre.
My 16 year old self would have been horrified. But my favourite song right now is Marley Purt Drive, from Odessa. By The Bee Gees. And there’s nary a falsetto in sight.
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