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Music Rewind: BeeGees Revisted

Nick Anderson | Monday, March 23, 2009

The Beatles are at fault for disco. Begrudgingly, most people will admit this. In fact, anyone who argues The Beatles are not responsible for all music released after 1969 seems unreasonable. If we take a moment to examine it, it gets deeper. To understand, one needs to begin in 1967. After being heard by Brian Epstein, The Bee Gees were signed by Polydor Records. Their first single shipped, bearing a white label simply reporting the name of the band and song. Rumors spread that the name Bee Gees was code for “Beatles Group.” Between the quality of the song and The Beatles connection, the song quickly rose into the top 20 in both the U.K. and America. The Bee Gees continued their career in music and went on to create some of the most popular music of the disco era. This tale seems clear cut. The audience is only left with one question: How did the leisure suit-wearing, disco-dancing, staying-alive Bee Gees manage to be mistaken for The Beatles? To understand is to listen to the first of their seven greatest hits albums: Best of Bee Gees. Released in 1969, there isn’t a hint of their later popular songs. Instead the forgotten gems contribute to a whole that can only be considered essential listening for any fan of classic rock. Musically and emotionally, the compilation centers on the single, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” Haunting harmonies over sparse instrumentation allow the brothers Gibb to tell the story of two men in a mine collapse in a way that is both beautiful and harrowing. Intelligently placed as the closing track, it acts as an excellent climax to an album full of complex themes and melodies. The Bee Gees truly hit the mark when singing about heartbreak. Beautiful harmonies over stirring melodies manage to keep the album for falling into a collection of self-pitying songs. They aren’t singing about struggle because they’re depressed about it; they sing because the struggle is important. While “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” weighs on one’s soul for days after listening, the album is not draining. In a fair world, “Holiday,” the opening track, would be considered a pop classic. Although strangely eerie, the song is absolutely gripping. By finding a fascinating balance of calm and unsettling, it is able to keep the listeners’ attention without overpowering their senses. The surprising musical skill found throughout the disk allows several songs to remain lighter without losing interest. While the band had only been recording for two years when the album was released, there is not a hint of filler throughout the album. Impressively, after several listens, the singles mesh into a cohesive album, a rare occurrence for a best of album. While almost every song is worthy on its own, it is best appreciated as a whole. The collection is plagued by two flaws: songs where the band loses its identity and shoddy production. Two major influences, The Beatles and The Beach Boys, are evident on every song. At their best, the songs provide a compelling companion to these two bands; at worst they sound like a young band doing their best to cover their idols. When the CD was released, the record company neglected a serious effort at remastering it. While the old sound adds a fair bit of charm to the recording, there are distinct moments when the vocals overpower instruments. Worse, a number of verses sound distorted almost to the point of comedy. In light of an extremely successful career that continued for the next 30 years, it’s not a surprise that their early work is lost to our generation. It is, however, unfortunate. Their greatest cultural achievement may be “Stayin’ Alive” during disco, but their musical high mark occurred years before at the release of this album.