Some Bits Left Out

We took a couple of hours the other day to catch up on the HBO documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. We enjoyed the music and the memories, learned a bit more about how the Brothers Gibb put together their sound, and – for my part, anyway – felt more than a little bit sad for Barry, the last surviving Gibb brother, as he talked about his memories of fellow Bee Gees Maurice and Robin and their kid brother, Andy.

Over the years, I’ve said something like “There are three parts to the arc of the Bee Gees’ career,” citing the Beatlesque phase of the mid- to late 1960s (covering the period from their first album and hits to 1969’s Odessa), the “pulling-it-back-together” phase from 1970 through 1974, and the disco/megastar phase from 1975 to 1980.

Probably over-simple, and I kind of missed one: The songwriting and production phase, which overlaps the last of my three phases. From 1978 on, the Brothers Gibb wrote and produced hits for so many folks that any hour on the radio was going to bring you two or three records with the Bee Gees’ fingerprints on them, stuff by Samantha Sang, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Diana Ross, and so many more (including brother Andy).

What I thought was just as interesting as the stuff the documentary reminded me about was the stuff that it left out entirely. There was no mention of the 1978 film version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, an utter failure that featured Peter Frampton as well as the Bee Gees. (The best – and kindest – reaction I’ve ever read about the mess came from Beatle George Harrison: “I think it’s damaged their images, their careers, and they didn’t need to do that. It’s just like the Beatles trying to do the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones can do it better.”)

And there was at most a veiled mention of the period in 1969 and 1970 when the group split, with Robin Gibb trying out a solo career. No mention of Robin’s album Robin’s Reign or the album that Barry and Maurice put out at the same time, Cucumber Castle (a title taken from a track on the 1967 album The Bee Gee’s 1st). Neither of the two albums is very good, though I think Robin’s is the lesser of the two. On the other hand, that opinion might stem from the fact that I’d never heard Robin’s Reign until I found it online ca. 2007, while I first heard Cucumber Castle across the street at Rick’s in 1970 (and it made its way onto my shelves in 1989).

Given those caveats, the HBO film was well done and pleasant watching (and listening). I was especially tickled to learn that Barry’s falsetto – the group’s secret weapon during the period when they owned the world – was discovered pretty much by accident while recording “Nights On Broadway” for Main Course (which happens to be my favorite Bee Gees’ album).

Here, from 1970’s Cucumber Castle, is the quirky “My Thing.”

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One Response to “Some Bits Left Out”

  1. David says:

    I had the same reaction regarding the skipping of the Sgt. Pepper movie. The documentary also largely avoided their comeback from the late 1980s onward, where they were more of a legacy act that could still have occasional hit songs (“You Win Again”) or respected and popular albums (“Still Waters”). Due to these factors, I’d rank the earlier “This Is Where I Came In” Bee Gees documentary as superior.

    I was surprised to learn that the Saturday Night Fever songs were all recorded at Château d’Hérouville. I had just assumed that they were recorded in Miami, like their previous few albums. I can’t imagine producing music so danceable and urban in such a rural and foreign recording studio/setting, which I associate more with the sounds of Elton John or Fleetwood Mac than the Bee Gees.

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