Thursday, May 17, 2012

Very Much NOT The Best Of Bee Gees: Why This Compilation Underwhelms!

The Good: Decent vocals, Good sound
The Bad: Short, Lacks most of the best songs by The Bee Gees!
The Basics: A very average compilation, Best Of Bee Gees is brought down by the presence of superior compilations on the market.

In a month where I have been panning a number of compilations, it seems fitting for me to nail the old Bee Gees's compilation Best Of Bee Gees to the wall.

For several years, this album, originally released in 1969 was out of print and one has to wonder why the group decided to let Rhino Records put it back in rotation, especially following the amazing release Their Greatest Hits: The Record. Best Of Bee Gees has only two songs which were not a part of that compilation and for those doing the math, 1969 precedes the release of Saturday Night Fever and the whole disco revolution. So, while there are some truly wonderful songs by the Bee Gees on this compilation, arguably many of their best works - both qualitatively and by sales - are not.

With only a dozen songs occupying 37:34, Best Of Bee Gees is an excellent example of the group's creative powers. Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb wrote all of the songs on the album, in various combinations of the three. The Bee Gees provide all of the vocals, they play all of their own instruments and they act as co-producers on the album. This is very much who they were when they wrote these songs.

And while it may seem obvious because the album precedes disco, the group was not a disco or even a dance group in this incarnation. No, these early years of Bee Gees has the group sounding incredibly folk ("New York Mining Disaster 1941") and like typical pop-rock balladeers ("I Started A Joke," "Massachusetts") and yet, many of the tunes still resonate today. This is because the songs have actual melodies (one would bet that virtually everyone could hum the tune to "I've Gotta Get A Message To You" or "To Love Somebody") and the men of Bee Gees can actually sing.

Instrumentally, the album is almost exclusively made up of songs with guitars, bass and drums, though the keyboards begin to exert real influence in later tracks like "To Love Somebody" and "Massachusetts." The songs tend to be quieter ballads and the album becomes somewhat monotonous in that regard. "Words" is a quiet, longing ballad which melds into "I Started A Joke," which is slow and vocally-driven which melts into "First Of May," which has a singsong quality to it. While the men could write and they could create memorable music, they seem to cop out in the middle years these songs are culled from by becoming whispy, acapella singers who do not use their full resonance to sell their songs.

On Best Of Bee Gees it is also easy for listeners to hear the transition between the tenor voices of the band ("New York Mining Disaster 1941") and the falsetto presentations which took them into the 1970s ("First Of May"). But what the Bee Gees do not get nearly enough credit for is how they use their full vocal range. "Words" goes from the lowest Maurice could sing into a falsetto and his range is actually suitably impressive. The Bee Gees, regardless of anything else, were fairly fearless about pushing their own limits and even that is evident on Best Of Bee Gees.

As far as the lyrics go, the Bee Gees are one of the more creative musical acts and lyrically, they have a strong sense of poetics which is undoubtedly why they were able to extend their career in the 1980s to writing material for other artists. The Bee Gees have a great sense of imagery which makes their messages and themes perfectly clear. Indeed, when they sing "Hey! I swallowed each and every lie that you gave to me. / Where lies the man that I was, and the future that could never be? / Tomorrow...every one gonna know me better. / And tomorrow...every one gonna drink my wine. / And...tomorrow...every one gonna read my letter, / and my story of love, and a love that could never be mine" ("Tomorrow, Tomorrow"), it is easy for listeners to relate to the sense of loss and longing.

As well, the Bee Gees have a decent musical storytelling ability. On "Massachusetts," they engage the listener with lines like "Tried to hitch a ride to San Francisco, / Gotta do the things I wanna do. / And the lights all went down in Massachusetts / They brought me back to see my way with you." And through their storysongs, they branch out beyond the usual songs about love and loss that one expects to hear from a pop-rock group. Unfortunately, not all the songs are like that and "Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You," for example, ends up as a terribly repetitive song with little lyrical substance.

Why, then, am I so down on Best Of Bee Gees? First, it is dreadfully short and does not use the medium well at all as a result. Second, the three songs on this compilation that are not on Their Greatest Hits: The Record - "I Can't See Nobody," "Tomorrow, Tomorrow," and "Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You" - are not the best they have to offer and listeners who buy the other compilation are likely to be much happier with their purchase. Anyone who wants a well-rounded view of the Bee Gees or a great musical lesson would do better to pick up Their Greatest Hits: The Record instead of this.

The best song is "I've Gotta Get A Message To You," the low point is "World."

For other works by The Bee Gees, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack
One Night Only
Number Ones


Check out how this album stacks up against other albums and singles by visiting my specialized Music Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best musical work to worst!

© 2012, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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