Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Heretical Bee Gees Judgment

As I was listening to Feist's version of the Bee Gee's disco hit "Love You Inside Out," I had to marvel at the exquisite production quality, how beautifully it fulfills the mandates of late 70s laser-carved disco polish. It's funky, sleek and breezy, a kind of hologram of depth (listen here). It inspired me to revisit the late 70s Gees, the stuff you're not supposed to like as much as Odessa. It's when I got inside the headphones for the second side of Spirits Have Flown, the 1979 LP, that I finally arrived at a ghastly and heretical judgment: Late 70s Bee Gees is actually better than late 60s Bee Bees!

The song "Too Much Heaven" (which I had to hear once a day for about a month) was the gateway drug. But the acutely-arranged, super-tight, deep dish R&B of "Stop (Think Again)" single-handedly shifted my consciousness. The center of gravity here is Dennis Byron's drumming, which is amazingly supple and spacious. The song has the most soulful fugel horn I've ever heard. The David Letterman sax solo is respectably curt and the cascading harmonies come in like diamonds + MDMA + Pellegrino on ice. Barry's searching helium croon is basically an Australian outsider artist's rendition of Al Green. At one point, you nearly get confused about which is the saxophone and which is Gibb.

Gibb really absorbed Philly soul and the whole Thom Bell production sound down to the atomic level. The minimalist drum'n'bass, the sneaky now-you-see'em-now-you-don't guitar riffs, the overall arid audio tableau where every instrument seems to have a velvet shadow stretching across a mystical sunburst desert at dusk, the aura of an 8 ball gliding gracefully for the corner pocket. The falsetto soul singing and airtight choruses are fully in the Philly soul tradition, descended from the great Bell-produced Delfonics (listen to "Break Your Promise" below and see what I mean).

The whole "disco" hex isn't fair. When you eliminate the filters of Saturday Night Fever and every wedding you've ever danced to "Stayin' Alive" at, when you get inside the headphones and listen close, you realize the hooks here are as good if not better than the 60s stuff, but also more sophisticated and actually closer to the white R&B dream that Barry Gibb was always trying to achieve. Compare the tempos and arrangements to the mid-70s Al Green records, they're very similar. Black radio stations played the 70s Bee Gees hits, which says something. Gibb was advanced, too: "I'm Satisfied" has a brittle hip-hop beat in it that R. Kelly could lift without anyone the wiser. I love that Gibb sings it as "makin' my love to you." It's his love he's making to you. Which brings me to my final observation: Barry Gibb's satin'n'gold oversexed apeman look doesn't hurt the equation, you know?

Love You Inside Out - Feist

Stop (Think Again) - Bee Gees

Too Much Heaven - Bee Gees

I'm Satisfied - Bee Gees

Break Your Promise - The Delfonics


hector23 said...

I envy your writing. Very descriptive and to the point. i myself do actually like the 70s bee gees although they have been sort of a guilty pleasure rather than something I would sing to the rafters about as you have here.

If you are so moved by this stuff you should burrow deeper into disco itself. I spent most of last year delving into its myriad wonders. Check out some of the stuff that falls under the tag of paradise garage. Lerry Levan had great taste. Everything from straight r&B to postpunk and eventually synthpop.

I was particularly consumed with a lot of the stuff posted on and bumrocks that fell into the "disco" catagory.

Happy In Bag said...

Your insights compel me to share, Lefty. The Muzak system in my neighborhood grocery store regularly plays the Bee Gee's 1997 hit "Alone." It takes all my willpower not to collapse and grovel at the feet of the nearest soccer mom when I hear it. Pure genius, I tell you!