by Kristin Battestella
Although 1967’s Bee Gees First is a fairly recent addition to my collection, anybody who knows anything about sixties music is bound to know at least a few tunes from this one. Besides having a bit of the heyday camp on the cover and in the music, First is also a bit of a tongue and cheek title to me. Barry, Robin, and Maurice had been plugging away at music in Australia before releasing this their ‘first English’ record.
Turn of the Century leads off the album in true and quirky fashion. At first all the talk of bicycles and time machines is a bit hokey, but the tune is so catchy. Soon enough you’ll be singing along.
Mood and melancholy however, make their first appearance on Holiday. Robin’s somber voice takes over and already you realize there is something deeper to this group. Of course nowadays everyone knows this one from the live versions and Maurice’s little side show antics.
Why do I find all these old songs and their lyrics so confusing? Red Chair Fade Away is too similar to other music of the time, which is odd to say on an artist’s first album. Most people do a few covers or use other’s songs on a primary release, but Barry, Robin, and Maurice prove here they are more than a passing invasion band. Oh yeah!
Outside of the few monsters on this CD, One Minute Woman might be my favorite. It is quite underrated in my opinion. Barry’s easy delivery and nearly begging lyrics sold me on the first listen.
In My Own Time is touch and go with me. I like it, but the tone and vocals are a bit too Beatle imitation for me. I like my Bee Gees as The Bee Gees. I’ve heard fifty other songs that sound like Time. Are they catchy? Sure. Unique? No. Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You is unique. The first time I heard this on record I was all over the spectrum. It’s so moody and churchy and chant-like, but the chorus is almost happy. Every listen gets my wheels churning. What are they saying? Who cares it sounds cool!
Quirky Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts is the first all Robin song presented. Already on this album we witness the duel leads of Barry and Robin. Eleven of the songs here are also credited to only Barry and Robin, including all the biggies. Kirk again has an ambiguous story almost like poetry. Everyone can read something different, and I love the toy piano like stops and starts. Very nice indeed.
When the boys penned New York Mining Disaster 1941 in a jammed elevator in England, do you think they knew what a classic it would become? If casual fans tell me they like “Have you see my wife Mr. Jones?” I always get a great chuckle. Again people know more Bee Gees songs then they realize-and not from the Brothers ‘height’ in 1977. This is 10 years prior! Disaster represents the early genius of the brothers in lyrics, story, mood, music, and hooks.
Besides the fact that the song Cucumber Castle is not on the later album entitled Cucumber Castle , this oddity gets points again for being like nothing else heard before. Who else can put medieval touches into sixties pop? The one seemingly understandable line “Cucumber Castle be ever so humble,” is so contradictory. A castle? Where kings live? How can that be humble? It makes you curious for another listen.
If you don’t like To Love Somebody, come closer so I can hit you. This has to be one of the classics. One of the penne ultimate Gibb songs. None of that Fever stuff. To Love Somebody says all the love in just the right way. The proof of musical genius here is evident. (We also reviewed Somebody, Disaster, and I Can’t See Nobody on our Gold review.)
I like Barry’s delivery in I Close My Eyes, but some of the twists are again a bit too Beatle for me. Actually there isn’t much else to say about this song! Pity. Oh yes I Can’t See Nobody! My niece digs this one. When I first heard it I thought it was Maurice, but Robin switches styles-showing early on his unique range. The lyrics here are also telling. When you are falling in or out of a relationship, the other person is everything, you truly are unaware of everything else. Robin’s creaky ups and downs show the heartache, yet the rhythm of the music describe the heights you can feel. Wow.
Please Read Me sounds a lot like the early Australian tunes the boys did. The sweet harmony dominating here is the early bloom of what was to come, even if it is a bit short on words. You can’t have it all on your first album! The fourteenth and final track Close Another Door starts off slowly. Robin showcases himself again near the end. Door picks up to an easy pace and bookends well with Turn of the Century. Pity on anyone who listens to the first and last song of an album. Look at all the good stuff in between!
First is a unique album in every sense of the word. It’s really something special to go back and see classic Gibb music even then, and don’t forget several gems here were very ground breaking at the time. To the fans that have been here since the beginning, I tip my hat to you!