Saturday, December 11, 2010

Behold the Bee Gees

Let's start by saying that I discovered this video on a nostalgia site I'm known to frequent (a Touch of Tuesday Weld).

(Sadly, while this video is labeled "good sound," the picture quality suffers from pixellation if you embiggen it.)

As Ms Linger describes it, "This song suffers from the same ailment that so many others of its era did: Greg Ham Syndrome. So named for the saxophone player in Men at Work, Greg Ham Syndrome refers to the compulsion to stick a sax solo into your song because the Men did it so successfully." But that's only one of the many things wrong with this video.

See, the Bee Gee's started out as a decent, slightly psychedelic folk-pop trio in the late Sixties; then, sadly, in the Seventies they discovered two things: disco, and the falsetto.

If you listen to their disco hits, they're well-constructed and have good harmonies - harmonies, unfortunately, set slightly off-pitch and in a register only dogs can hear. But they made a lot of money doing that - according to their citation in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, "only Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney have outsold the Bee Gees."

Their name is assumed to be acronymic of "the Brothers Gibb," although there is a theory out there that it was derived from the names of two people who helped them early in their career - promoter Bill Goode and DJ Bill Gates.

When they made this particular song in 1983, disco had died an ugly death, lingering seemingly forever from the mixed effects of rampant drug abuse and necrotizing STD's. And the Bee Gees were trying to overcome the shame of having appeared in 1978's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. So Barry, Robin and Maurice tried to hook their stars to Eighties power pop.

But although they brought the guitar up in the mix, they still had strong disco influences; thankfully, the falsetto was mostly reduced to twins Robin and Maurice singing backup (maybe it was bothering Barry's throat by then - he was almost 40 by this point).

But no matter what they did, there was one disco tie-in that they couldn't escape: this song was featured in John Travolta's failed attempt at a sequel to Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive. (Admittedly, this was one of the ten top-grossing films of 1983 - that doesn't make it a good movie or anything.)

The video also features the dance stylings of Cynthia Rhodes, who co-starred in Staying Alive but is better known for her co-starring parts in Flashdance and Dirty Dancing (and, for that matter, the Tom Selleck killer robot epic Runaway).

Now, the easy joke would be "who really believes that Robin or Maurice would run after a woman?" Of course, there's no evidence that Maurice was ever gay (and either of his two wives might object to the phrase). And Robin? He's just... well, "unconventional" might be the best word.

There actually are lyrics buried in the mix, but they're a little random - the Gibb boys would occasionally just throw in phrases because they fit the rhythm, which was more important than being coherent:
But baby, sharper than a knife
Help me to know you
Show me the night to satisfy
A sinner with the flash of an eye
There'll never be another me

I never knew love could wind me up
I don't do my stuff
'Till you go walkin' by
And maybe old enough to try

I never knew anyone in between
The devil and the angel
All in one and maybe old
Enough that I can ride
Your love let me burn
Let me slide down to your soul
You can pull me in
You can push me out
The fact that the last half of the video is Ms. Rhodes and the Post-Apocalypse Solid Gold Dancers just caps off everything that's wrong with the song.

Or possibly what's right about it.

1 comment:

Nance said...

The good old days, how I miss them. My favorite parts of this sentimental journey:

1) Rhodes is married to Richard Marx, which brings up a whole new set of memories and lyrics.

2. Robin's wife, Dwina, "bisexual former druid priestess." Sounds like a camp television series.

3. I'm screenshotting Rhodes' hairdo for my hairdresser; it's time that one made the fashion rounds again. That style was such a breeze to keep to speak.