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
“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.
The Bee Gees perform "Nights on Broadway"
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