Four years is an eternity in popular music.
But that’s how long it was since the Bee Gees’ last hit, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”. In the interim Jethro Tull released an album containing only one track, FM trounced AM and “Free Bird” became an anthem. But in the sporting goods store I worked in on Hollywood Boulevard, they still broadcast AM, that’s all they had.
And I lived to hear this.
It was my second sporting goods store gig. The first one was around the corner, on Highland, neither of these establishments exist anymore. And the clientele was always a trip. Talking to Jack Nicholson, H.R. Haldeman coming in for Tretorns. Never mind the delusional street people dropping in for the air conditioning.
I never had a soft spot for the Bee Gees. But when “Jive Talkin'” came out, suddenly I did. I guess we like things that connect us to the past that are not pure nostalgia. “Jive Talkin'” may be lumped into the disco camp, but really, it’s not. It’s just a hit record. With a groove and flourishes that make you wince and smile at the same time. The keyboard riff, the percussion breakdown…this is one track I’ve never burned out on, it’s the link between what once was and was yet to be.
Somehow, in the history of popular music, a taint has been placed upon this track, people dismiss it, look down their noses upon it.
That’s what success will do for you. Bring out the haters, the history rewriters. Sometimes something’s so great, you can’t say a negative thing about it, and when it comes to “Stayin’ Alive”, that’s the way it should be.
Forget the disco backlash, blowing up records in Comiskey Park, everybody loved “Stayin’ Alive”, not only the polyester-clad dancers but the dyed-in-the-wool rockers. Because it’s so damn good!
You’ve got to understand, it snuck up on people. It wasn’t like today, with endless movie hype. A film with John Travolta based on a Nik Cohn story in “New York”, which years later turned out to be completely fabricated…there was no built-in desire.
And then you went to see it.
Travolta walking down the street with a swagger, putting one slice of pizza atop another, it was movie magic…and it wouldn’t have been half as good without the soundtrack, “Stayin’ Alive”.
Movies were platformed, they didn’t open in thousands of theatres, word took months to spread, “Saturday Night Fever” was an immediate hit, but unlike today’s flicks, it played for six months, not six weeks.
And the more the movie played, the more people bought the soundtrack, the more these songs were on the radio. The Bee Gees ended up on a victory lap they still haven’t recovered from.
That’s the power of a hit song. Especially when matched with a hit movie.
And don’t you love those drums at 3:44!
“If I Can’t Have You”
My favorite non-Bee Gees song on the soundtrack was the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno”… But that was not a movie original, that was another of those disco songs we rockers secretly admitted we loved. But my second favorite was a movie original, by Yvonne Elliman, “If I Can’t Have You”, written, of course, by the Bee Gees, not that many knew this at the time…
And this is one of the rare cases wherein the writers’ version is inferior, still, listen, you might not have heard it…
And talk about a hook…
“If I can’t have you
I don’t want nobody baby”
We all know this feeling, it’s the human condition.
Despite the cheery title, this song has such a depressing feel.
Maybe that’s why it appeals to me.
We live in an upbeat world where if you’ve got problems you’re scuttled aside, unless you’re a celebrity and go on “Oprah” and confess. But that’s anything but personal. Depression is personal. As is so much of the greatest music, beamed directly from the speakers into your heart.
This was not the first Bee Gees track I heard, but it was the first one that clicked.
We had season tickets at Bromley. A ski area with a lot of character that faces south and is right upon the highway which I love with all my heart. And at the end of each ski day, the teenagers would congregate on the main floor, around the corner, where the jukebox was.
I’m gonna do a whole playlist on the tracks that emanated from that machine, that changed my life, that I had to buy. Stuff you wouldn’t expect, like “Boogaloo Down Broadway”, by the Fantastic Johnny C…and this.
You see that’s what’s great about a jukebox, about the AM radio of yore…you don’t get to hear what you want to, but what others want to. And then you end up hearing these songs enough they become your favorites too.
I can still see the townies, with their Moriarty hats pushed up high. The tension between the locals and the weekenders, the way we connected as the winter months wore on, drinking our hot chocolate and eating our monster glaze donuts. That’s what’s great about life, the memories. When you’re depressed, you think back and you smile.
“New York Mining Disaster 1941”
This was the first Bee Gees song I heard. But since it was not on the Bromley jukebox, I did not know it as well.
What I love is the endless repetition of “Mr. Jones”…you think he really exists.
I was always flummoxed by this. How a band from the U.K. via Australia could pick out such a tiny state and write a song about it.
Massachusetts was just the next state over. The one we drove through to get to Vermont, the one that contained my grandparents.
You know how you feel a special connection with a song that mentions your name? That’s how I feel about this song. Especially in the sixties, all the glamour, all the references, were based on California, the west coast. Sure, most of the people lived on the east coast, but popular culture seemed to be based out west, but not in this song.
And I love all the aforementioned records. “Massachusetts” was the follow-up to “Holiday”, they were on a roll. But then came “Words”, “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You” and the execrable “I Started A Joke”. Who was this music made for? Sure, I could get depressed, but this music seemed to be made for hobbits who never left the house, who never saw the sun shine, people who were perpetually under the weather. You made fun of these songs. And if you say otherwise, you weren’t there.
But then there was a last hurrah. Just when I’d written them off, the Bee Gees released my favorite song, “Lonely Days”…
The track started off like another dirge, and then…
“Good morning mister sunshine, you brighten up my day
Come sit beside me in your way”
The harmonies were exquisite, they made you feel all warm inside, the strings swirled underneath… And then there was the rhyme of “restaurant” and “nonchalant”…
And then the song changed completely, it became a rocker… Someone started banging on the piano, like you would at home, only with more talent, there were random horns, you felt like you were at a football game and wanted to get out on the field and march with the band.
Then the track devolved into dreaminess, something the Beatles were so good at, but the Bee Gees did well too. The track went back to the quiet verse… But when the chorus came back this time, it was truly vociferous.
WHERE WOULD I BE WITHOUT MY WOMAN!
The brass is squeezing out the notes, the boys are shouting and harmonizing, the strings are swirling…it’s a tour de force.
And I’ll bet what Barry Gibb is feeling right now is lonely. With three of his four brothers deceased. You don’t want to survive, you want to go first, otherwise it’s just too painful. You’ve got no one to share your memories with, no one to sing with…
But we the listeners are not burdened by the death of three of the brothers Gibb. For us, the songs still live. This was an act that hung in there, kept trying, for decades, experimenting, getting it right. Their only mistake was to become so successful that the public put them in a box and they became inhibited by their own legacy.
Spotify playlist: http://spoti.fi/p6HcZ8
Previous Rhinofy playlists: http://www.rhinofy.com/lefsetz