sun 04/12/2016

The Nation's Favourite Bee Gees Song, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

The Nation's Favourite Bee Gees Song, ITV1

The Nation's Favourite Bee Gees Song, ITV1

A safe but sincere tribute to the biggest hits of the Brothers Gibb

Barry and Robin Gibb in 2009 at the presentation of Isle of Man’s specially minted Bee Gees coin

“They’re some of the greatest pop songs ever written,” declares Sir Elton John. He’s right. The Bee Gees – Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb – are responsible for songs that will live forever, songs that are part of successive generation’s cultural furniture. Yet although the title was The Nation’s Favourite Bee Gees Song, the question asked on the ITV website was: “Just what is the greatest Bee Gees song ever?” Favourite and greatest aren’t the same thing. They can be, but they aren’t.

This kitten-soft stroll through 20 of The Bee Gees’ evergreens wasn’t concerned with any such existential dilemma. Amanda Holden’s excited-puppy voiceover wasn’t made for questioning. So thankfully, we had help from Sirs Elton John and Cliff Richard, Neil Sedaka, Bob Harris and Katie Melua. Dave Grohl, too. And Barry and Robin Gibb. It was obvious from before the off that the concept album Odessa, oddities like “Harry Braff” or the classics “Red Chair, Fadeway" and “Kilburn Towers” weren’t going to get a look in. Of course, there are other programmes to be made about their songs: The Bee Gees' Most Idiosyncratic Songs maybe, or one dedicated to the songs they’ve given away. Let’s hope they get made.

The wildly perky voiceover wittered that they defined an era. Which one?

Still, whatever the Bee Gee torch held, it’s extraordinary that the band's survival instinct – perhaps strengthened at different times by the deaths of both Maurice and solo brother Andy – has given their songs a seemingly endless shelf life, while they themselves write songs that suit any of pop’s generations. “They defined an era,” wittered the wildly perky voiceover. Which one? As Sir Cliff noted, they reinvented themselves.

Judging by the session musicians trotted out, the Gibbs relied on studio keyboard players to realise their ideas, as well as the producers they worked with. Robin Gibb said they always started with a melody and recorded the complete backing track before adding a vocal. Barry Gibb said of his trademark wordless high vocal that, “I went out there and screamed, and it didn’t sound like a scream.” Of Barbra Streisand he insightfully offered, “She’s great, she’s Barbra.”

This was about the 20 chosen songs, whoever delivered them. Celine Dion, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton figured in the rundown to the top choice. Adam Faith was mentioned in passing as a recipient of one of their songs and, as a tribute to their songwriting talent, this obscurity can be heard below - listen out for The Bee Gees on what are more than backing vocals. All these singers had songs specially written for them but didn’t appear, so we got Ronan Keating who, with Boyzone, had a hit covering “Words”. Keating said he heard it and thought, “This is Boyzone.” Pity poor Cliff for whom it was originally written. He recalled of “Words” that “the office couldn’t get it to me”.

Listen to Adam Faith singing “Cowman Milk Your Cow”, composed for him by The Bee Gees

Odd moments brought gentle insights into the talking heads paraded. Sir Elton John revealed that “Islands in the Stream" always gets people going during karaoke sessions at his home. Um, well, I look forward to the invite. Simply Red's Mick Hucknall was interviewed, indoors, in sunglasses. He sat before a window overlooking the Houses of Parliament. A detour into the Saturday Night Fever stage show found its star Adam Garcia recalling that “unexpectedly I became a huge pop star, a h-u-u-ge pop star. Number 15”. Huge, then. Dave Grohl singing "Tragedy" was priceless, but Ronan Keating telling us The Bee Gees have been around for decades was less so.

The programme asked how their career will be remembered. Was this an epitaph?

There was also some sloppiness. “To Love Somebody” was described as their second single. It was certainly not that in Australia and was actually their third UK single (after "Spicks and Specks" and "New York Mining Disaster"). Lulu was mentioned as having covered “To Love Somebody” without noting her marriage to a Bee Gee. A sequence on their arrival in the UK in the Sixties was immediately followed by a "Staying Alive"-era clip. Yep, it was off the boat and straight into the disco.

The programme asked how their career will be remembered. Was this an epitaph? “I don’t think we’ll see the likes of them again,” said Beverley Knight. These past tenses were a tad depressing. However their music is delivered – through themselves, through other performers – The Bee Gees have always seemed current. This celebration of their songs undercut that, making it seem as though it's over. I’d prefer to think it isn't.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

The Bee Gees perform "Nights on Broadway"

 

The Bee Gees’s survival instinct – perhaps strengthened by the deaths of Maurice and solo brother Andy – has given their songs a seemingly endless shelf life

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Comments

What session musicians were trotted out? Although not made obvious in the program we, myself, Dennis Bryon and Alan Kendal (not interviewed) were part of the Bee Gees at that time and not just the trotted out session musicians. We, the same as the brothers, received royalties from the recordings and were not payed as session players. We worked not only as a team but as friends and for the first years lived and worked together when recording. I agree with you over the program being a little soft both myself and Dennis contributed more of an incite into how the songs were created but I suppose we don't bring in the much needed ratings (even you didn't consider mentioning our names) so the talking heads were used. Maybe one day a more in-depth harder story will be told. Blue Weaver

Thanks for this - not sure if I call you Blue, or Mr Weaver. From Amen Corner onwards, well...

Indeed, the programme did not dig into the relationship (both creative and business-wise) between the Bee Gees and the musicians on their records. I'd welcome (as many would, no doubt) an in-depth harder story. 

Love to hear you talk your contributions to Lou Reed's Berlin.

Kieron

Thank you Kieron, Please call me Blue Mr. makes me feel my age.... Aah! Lou and Berlin... I had left The Strawbs and was out of work, well I was driving a mini-cab to help pay my mortgage and eat. I used to visit the London studios on a regular basis looking for work and one evening I was standing at the bar in Morgan Studios with my last drop of beer in my half pint glass when in walked Bob Ezrin who I'd met and done some work for while in Strawbs. He bought me another drink and asked if I go and jam with a few guys he had in the studio next door as they needed to 'warm-up' before a session he was producing. I walked into the studio and nearly had a heart attack and wanted to say sorry you need someone else but everyone was great so I sat at the organ and have no idea what we played, they most probably had no idea what I was playing but were most kind and then Lou walked in and Bob said I was staying on to record. I did my best at the time. Lou mentions in a book that I said they had to get him to sing before 6.00pm as after that he was too stoned his reply was I wasn't stoned and couldn't even play before 6 let alone after, that made me laugh because it was so apt at the time and I know he said it purely as a re-buff. What happened was I got a phone call for the writer who asked had I heard the story that Lou couldn't sing after 6.00pm I said yes I had but didn't know that the rest of the story was because they said he was stoned, (he performed great stoned or not) anyway you have to be careful with journalists-:)

As a life long fan of the Brothers Gibb, I along with countless others enjoyed 90 minutes of pure joy as a career was celebrated (not an epitaph). Your article is apprieciated & written in support I think. The comment about "session musicians" is perhaps a little disappointing as I think that even non BG fans who may have watched this programme would have realised that these guys played a vital part in the development in a body of work that is still relevant to the music industry today.To the fans & the Gibb Brothers.... Blue Weaver, Dennis Bryon & Alan Kendal were the BGs ! As were Vince Melouney & Colin Peterson back in the 60's.

Thank so much Sue for those kind and correct comments....Blue

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