While the Bee Gees are most famously associated with being the poster boys of the disco craze of the late seventies, digging deeper into their discography reveals a band who garnered a good amount of success creating psychedelic-pop albums in the late sixties. Armed with an impeccable knack for melody via their immediately recognizable three part vocal harmonization, the Bee Gees – who were a five-piece at this point in their career – quickly proved themselves to be a force to be reckoned with, going tit-for-tat alongside the royalty of the baroque-pop era, including their main influences at this point, The Beatles, as well as The Moody Blues, and Odessey and Oracle-era Zombies. While one can argue that the Gibb Brothers never created a single album as cohesive as many of their British counterparts, The Best of Bee Gees, a compilation album released in 1969, comes awfully close.
The Best of Bee Gees is a wonderfully compiled best-of album that does not falter once during its relatively succinct forty minute running time. Despite the tracks being culled from four albums of material, it flows remarkably well due to similar instrumentation, and the brilliant string arrangements that run throughout. Tracks like “To Love Somebody” and “I Started A Joke” will be immediately recognized by many for their swelling strings and soaring choruses, but it is the lesser known tracks that often shine through, especially the ones from the Revolver-influenced, Bee Gees 1st. “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You” is among the most innovative in their entire discography, weaving in a Gregorian chant, rolling drums, tambourines, and, most notably, utilizing echo to full effect to enhance the staggered vocals of the harmonizing brothers. Similarly, “I Can’t See Nobody” is lushly arranged, laced with prominent timpani, harpsichord, and mellotron parts. Over the top production usually presents a problem for a typical pop track, but not here; the instrumentation and extravagant orchestral arrangements emphasize the psychedelic flavor and distinctive melancholy mood of the band’s work at this point in their career. Frankly, the Gibb’s impassioned, distinctive vocal deliveries work so well that the production limitations of the music can often be put aside.
The distinctive melancholy, and theatrical qualities that are present in the lyrics of these tracks make this collection of songs stand out when compared to their peers. “I Gotta Get A Message to You” tells the story of a man who is about to be executed via electric chair begging the prison chaplain to pass his final words in the form of a note, to his wife: “But if I broke her heart, won’t you tell her I’m sorry/And for once in my life I’m alone/And I’ve got to let her know just in time before I go/I’ve just got to get a message to you, hold on, hold on/One more hour and my life will be through…” Similarly, the darkest track on here, “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” is a brooding, haunting track that tells the tale of miners who have become trapped inside a mine: “I keep straining my ears to hear a sound/Maybe someone is digging underground/Or have they given up and all gone home to bed?/Thinking those who once existed must be dead.” Though the lyrics are often dark in nature, they offer a nice contrast to the more upbeat arrangements and vocals. On both musical and lyrical terms, The Best of the Bee Gees, made distinctive on the shelves by its bright goldenrod album art, is a wonderful collection of baroque-pop songs from the early days of The Bee Gees that stands as being a great relic of the psychedelic era, and goes a long way in proving how versatile the band was over the course of their entire career.
Best of Bee Gees was an album that got a fair amount of play in the car when I was young, but I’m not sure if I ever put together as a kid that these Bee Gees were the same Bee Gees who told me I should be dancing, or who would put me in the ground given the opportunity. I do remember that album cover – that bright yellow, and the washed out faces…so let’s talk about that for a minute: who’s responsible for this? For such a collection of colorful music, yellow is such a drab color, isn’t it? On the bright side, it’s so immediately recognizable and stands out so much, so I guess, plus-one for the marketing people? But, how I wish this collection had a more representative (see: better) cover, maybe like the one for Bee Gees’ 1st? I feel like that may have helped it become more well known as the decades have gone on.
I’m not one to purchase duplicates of records, because, y’know….why? But, this was an exception, because, y’know….colors? I already had a copy of this record that I had bought second hand, but I saw this berry color variant, and couldn’t help myself. It contracts really nicely with that awful yellow cover, is flat, and sounds great.