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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

RIP, Robin Gibb; Also, Recognize Bee Gees' 1st as an All-Time Classic

Posted by on Tue, May 22, 2012 at 8:02 AM

Most Robin Gibb obits/tributes start with the Bee Gees’ soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, and, yeah, it’s an important cultural touchstone, but if Gibb—who died Sunday May 20 at age 62—deserves canonization, it’s for his contributions to Bee Gees’ 1st. Recorded in 1967, it was the Australian group’s third album (that’s how they did it Down Under), and it stands as one of the greatest rock LPs from that hot, hot year—right behind Love’s Forever Changes, 13th Floor ElevatorsEaster Everywhere, Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love.

1st is a sublime psychedelic-pop opus, dominated by Robin and brother Barry’s composing and singing skills. It’s one of those rare records that’s excellent from front to back in which you have a different favorite tune every time you listen to it. The album’s topped by the baroquely bizarre hit “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You,” a regal, glorious tune punctuated by monks chanting in Latin and eerie, swirling Mellotron fugues. Other chart-scrapers included "Holiday," “New York Mining Disaster 1941” and “To Love Somebody,” the latter of which is a devastating, string-laden soul ballad that's been covered by hundreds, including Otis Redding, Nina Simone, and Leonard Cohen. “I Can’t See Nobody” is just as good as “To Love Somebody,” if not as popular.

Elsewhere, “In My Own Time,” which the Three O’Clock faithfully executed on their Sixteen Tambourines LP, is a rousing garage-psych nugget. “Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts” and “Close Another Door” hark back, respectively, to the Kinks and Beatles’ more innocent pop times. “Cucumber Castle” is a subtly orchestral ballad of melancholy beauty. The trippy twosome of “Red Chair, Fade Away” and “I Close My Eyes” contain some of the most endearing melodies ever conceived.

Loads of baby boomers and Jann Wenner’s minions may violently disagree, but 1st is a more consistently enjoyable listening experience than Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band; for one thing, there's nothing as excruciating as "When I'm Sixty-Four" or "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" on 1st. It behooves you to get the double-disc expanded CD reissue with stereo and mono mixes and a bonus disc of previously unreleased tracks. (I assume you already have the vinyl, playa.)


Comments (4) RSS

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I like "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "...Mr. Kite". I'm not a boomer and don't like Rolling Stone. (or the Stones)

So there?
Posted by Daily in LA on May 22, 2012 at 2:18 PM · Report this
Takes all kinds, #1.
Posted by Dave Segal on May 22, 2012 at 7:07 PM · Report this
Fnarf 3
Heartily agree with all of the above (except @1). In sound this record is more comparable to "Revolver" than "Sgt. Pepper", which is what makes it so great -- "Revolver" is a better album, and a better album to imitate, than "Sgt. Pepper". Yes, "1st" is a little derivative in spots, but remember that Robin (and Maurice) were SEVENTEEN at the time, and Barry was only twenty. What really sets them apart is the harmony singing -- well, all the singing, but when they come together it's fantastic. No one really got what the Beatles where doing with vocal harmony like the Bee Gees. They got dissed a lot for it at the time -- read the absolutely execrable and tone deaf review in Rolling Stone for a sample -- but they were more rooted in the pop tradition than the Fabs, who broke more new ground but had an increasing tendency to disappear up their own asses at times. RS has always hated pop, so they were deaf to the way the Bee Gees not only succeeded as "rock artists" but on a level with the likes of Dusty Springfield as well, and a host of others who in retrospect are far more interesting than the hopeless plodders RS was always championing. Great, great stuff, and if you might laugh at Robin's whackadoodle attempt at the high note on "I Can't See Nobody" the first time, you'll feel the genius of it too.
Posted by Fnarf on May 23, 2012 at 8:49 AM · Report this
Robin's voice is actually extremely versatile, in that he can blend with Barry to expand texture and tonal range, without giving away the stereotypical "Robin-isms". On Close Another Door, the last track off of "1st", that warm, choirboy voice in intro is the same Robin as the "whackadoodle", "bleating goat" Robin in the showstopping finale. Essentially the man had all the (arguably underdeveloped) qualities of a cult artist-oddball of limited following, yet was part of (& chose to be harnessed within) a mainstream pop-rock group.

Ditto on "I Can't See Nobody". I recommend folks check out the '72~'73 TV performances of this song, during Bee Gees' fallow years when lost popularity reduced them to playing dinner clubs again. Robin's vocal expressions gained more maturity since the original recording, and does truly grand guignol of superb melodrama this side of Edith Piaf.
Posted by Mammr on July 26, 2012 at 6:37 PM · Report this

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