In a career studded at least partly with lush, heartfelt and romantic songs, the Bee Gees might never have written and recorded a track as lush, heartfelt and romantic as the song that belongs to today: “First of May.” Released as a single from the trio’s 1969 album Odessa, “First of May” went to No. 37 that spring in the Billboard Hot 100. (It went to No. 18 in the Cash Box chart, and to No. 6 in the U.K.)
And if ever there were a day to check out covers, today is the day to look at a few covers of “First of May.” Several popped up shortly after the Bee Gees’ version came out. Among those listed at Second Hand Songs are 1969 versions by Fausto Pepetti and José Feliciano (on his Feliciano 10 to 23 album) and a 1971 cover by Cilla Black (on Images). And a 1970 cover brought “First of May” into the idiosyncratic and decidedly adult contemporary sights of the Mystic Moods Orchestra from its English Muffins album:
Another cover of the tune that caught my ear this morning came in 1979 from a Nigerian singer named Patti Boulaye, who included the song on her 1979 album, You Stepped Into My Life. The name was new to me, but Wikipedia says she was “among the leading black British entertainers in the 1970s and 1980s.” And that was the last cover listed at Second Hand Songs for eighteen years.
The listings at Second Hand Songs are likely not comprehensive (as I’ve said before), but I noticed in the website’s accounting of “First of May” a pattern I’ve seen there with other popular songs from the 1960s and 1970s: Frequent covers in the years immediately following a song’s first release followed by a slowing of interest in the song until, roughly, the years right around 2000. At that point, many songs have what can only be termed a renaissance, and I wonder if there is a correlation between the proliferation of covers and the growth in Internet marketing of music track-by-track. I suspect there is, and I imagine I could find evidence for that correlation if I wished to research the question, but I have other things in which to invest my time. (I also suspect there is a correlation less easy to research between the proliferation of covers of 1960s and 1970s songs with the quality of the songwriting during those times.)
In any event, the evident resurgence of interest in “First of May” included a pairing of Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees with G4 (described at Wikipedia as a “British opera boy band”) to record the song for the 2005 album, G4 and Friends. (There are several videos at YouTube of Gibb and G4 performing the song live in various venues.) And the most recent version of “First of May” listed at SHS comes from the Universal Daughters, whose 2013 cover – included on the album Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me – featured British singer Jarvis Cocker.
But the recent cover that I liked most came from English singer Mari Wilson, whose generally restrained version contrasts nicely with the over-performance that “First of May” often seems to invite. Wilson’s version is on her 2012 album, Cover Stories: