21 May 2012

[liff] In Praise of BeeGees

2825.Today, after the news that Robin Gibb has departed us, I can't help but remember my favorite story about how the BeeGees got started. It has become somewhat of a legend. I'm not really sure if it's true but it's charming and sweet and antic. 
As the legend goes, as lads in Oz, they enjoyed performing at the local moviehouse; just before the show or during the intermission, they'd have this 78 RPM record, and play it, and get up on stage with their little-dude make-believe band and lip-synch the song. And this pleased people, presumably because they were adorable little guys and were giving it their all.

Well, one day, on the way to the cinema, they dropped the record.

It shattered, of course. 

But the boys were troupers. They went up on stage and actually sang. And that went over even bigger and better than the lip-synched song went. And an act was, if not born, certainly germinated. And during the 60s they became popular. And during the 70s … well, they became ridiculously huge. 

I always did like the BeeGees, even though the disco period left me a bit cold. Now, I'm not just saying that to prevent being indicted for ever liking disco. I remember when that stuff came in. And if you weren't part of the moneyed set, just some school kid going to dances, heck … for a while, when it was new, it was innocent fun. All the music seemed peppy, upbeat, not just proud of its synths and airy strings and overproduction, but fairly wallowing in it. You couldn't not get up and dance, even if you were an awkward, weird teenager (who would grow into an awkward, weird adult, so, as you can see, preparation is everything. But that's another program altogether). 
Dark, moody, thoughtful, serious music could wait another day. It will still be there when you're done bein' goofy.
To say that the BeeGees were just disco is to be gravely unjust, however. They were insanely famous for that, and that's true enough. But they had a long road up to that pinnacle. Just before the disco era they were one of the more renowned pop harmony groups, kind of a poor-mans Beatles (poor-man in the good way). And this is kind of a clumsy way of blundering into recommending one of my favorite albums, and one of the better albums done anywhere by anyone … the album that stood at the inflection point between the pop years and the dance years, and that's 1975's Main Course.

This was the album that brought us "Jive Talkin'" and "Nights on Broadway", both of which had about equal parts of melody and lyrics and disco. They are also extremely listenable. The album goes deep and complex and quirky, though, with samples of country and western style ("Country Roads"), soft psychedelia (the almost Jabberwocky-like "Edge of the Universe"), and swaggering sexy-time ("All This Making Love"). The album takes the best of both worlds they straddled and left behind the bad things. 

As I listened to it and got into it, I made peace with my liking of the BeeGees. I suppose the disco era was going to get on everyone's nerves, after a while; after the novelty wore off the truth was, all the songs began to seem derivative, dull, and tedious. There's only so much movin' you can get out of cymbals, a back beat, and airy strings.

But Main Course … that's some satisfying music. Almost experimental in a couple of places, by a band who was unafraid of what they were doing and ready to take off, whether they knew it was going to work or not. 

I believe this album got on one of those Albums-You-Must-Listen-To-Before-You-Die lists.

It earned the place.

RIP, Robin Gibb, 1943-2012. 

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