To Bee Gee Or Not To Bee Gee:

A Look At The Early Oddities From The Brothers Gibb

698 views

The Bee Gees had one of the most regal of imperial phases in the late 70s.

Oh, such a magical time to be a fan of the Bee-
Wait what?

But we’ve heard plenty about that.

So I’m focusing on the late 60s:

Which turns out to be a rich and prolific period full of classic songs and some more unusual choices.

Maybe it was a product of dislocation having started life on the Isle Of Man, midway between England and Ireland, moving onto Manchester and then Australia before coming back to England at the start of 1967.

Possibly also that on returning to England, Barry was 20, and twins Robin and Maurice 17. So they matured as artists in public.


The song that brought them international recognition:

New York Mining Disaster 1941

Spring, 1967: the Summer of Love is about to burst into full bloom. But the Gibbs are on a whole other trip. Industrial accidents aren’t typical chart material.

I don’t know if its the confidence or naivety of youth to go against the grain and serve this up as your introduction to the world. Whichever it is, it worked.

There were frequent early comparisons to the Beatles. It’s reported that people thought this was the Fab Four or that they were behind it. Personally, it brings The Hollies to mind. But “In My Own Time” from Bee Gees 1st couldn’t be more blatant in revealing that they owned a copy of Revolver.

I assumed at first this referred to an actual mining incident. But no, they invented it. They explained that they settled on “New York.” as it sounded more glamorous than a British placename.

Maybe. Maybe not.

OK, New York has more international resonance, but glamour is at odds with the subject matter. Particularly as they later said it was inspired in part by the Aberfan disaster of October 1966 . That saw the Welsh village decimated by a landslide of decades wrth of colliery waste that had accumulated in spoil heaps on the hillsides above it. Houses and a school were destroyed resulting in 145 deaths including 116 children, most of them under 10.

I can see why they wouldn’t want that inspiration to be too obvious.


Dealing with heavy subject matter leads us to…

I Started A Joke

In November 1967 49 people were killed in the Hither Green train crash. A crash Robin and his girlfriend walked out of physically unscathed other than for minor cuts.

It would only be natural if the trauma of that experience fed into his songwriting.

Its an affecting but enigmatic number, open to all sorts of interpretations. Robin preferred to leave it to the listener to make their own judgement. It certainly reads as though the protagonist is working through some issues. As well as suggesting religious connotations:

I finally died,

Which started the whole world living’

The depth of the message spoiled only by the verse:

That thud is not the protagonist falling out of bed; rather, the sound of an out-of-step lyric landing.

It’s not the only time they would take unexpected tonal shifts. “Sinking Ships,” the B-side to “Words,” veers from a startling image of mortality in the first verse;

“Crashing planes
Only the eyes of the doomed with a smile on their face”

To mild inconvenience by the final line;

“Funny day
Banging the door to a close as it’s hurting my knee”


It wasn’t all doom and gloom:

Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy Of The Arts

They had a way with a whimsical song title. Surprisingly, Craise Finton Kirk is a real person, he just wasn’t an esteemed member of the Royal Academy of the Arts.

See also:

  • Paper Mache,”
  • Cabbages and Kings
  • Mrs. Gillespie’s Refrigerator

Cowman, Milk Your Cow

From the start the Bee Gees were in demand providing songs for others. Some found chart success, like “Only One Woman” by The Marbles, a UK #5 hit in 1968. Others did not.

Adam Faith was a teen idol in the late 50s / early 60s and in the 70s would successfully transition to acting and music management (Leo Sayer). In 1967 it had been two years since his last hit. He turned to the Bee Gees and with the brothers on backing vocals recorded their composition, “Cowman, Milk Your Cow.”

The song is a hidden gem with a gentle, folk infused psychedelic feel, showing Byrds influences. It didn’t chart though.

Faith said the problem was that his vocals couldn’t match that of the Gibb’s demo. I say maybe the title didn’t have mass appeal. Outside the farming community.

See also;

  • “Town of Tuxley Toymaker, Part 1” recorded by Billy J Kramer. I’m sure Barry will release Part 2 any day…

Onwards to peak madness:

Odessa (City On The Black Sea)

The Odessa album didn’t perform well on release but has grown in reputation since. The title song is barking mad. But is an immersive listen.

It starts with ghostly echoing voices intoning the fate of the British ship Veronica. Followed by a snatch of baa baa black sheep before we meet our bereft sailor.

It makes an initial kind of narrative sense about a ship lost at sea and a survivor stuck on an iceberg but how we get from there to the second verse is another matter;

“Treasure, you know the neighbors that live next door,
They haven’t got their dog anymore”

For someone stranded on an iceberg, he’s remarkably well informed about the neighbour’s dog. Plus, his priorities are some way out of whack; you need rescuing man, send out an SOS instead of making polite conversation.

That title misleads as well. I can’t say they struggle with geography as they correctly identify Odessa as a city on the Black Sea but its a fact wholly irrelevant to the song which they locate in the Baltic Sea before drifting into the North Atlantic.

It does contain a wonderfully baffling lyric as our sailor moves on from the neighbour’s dog to wonder;

“I just don’t understand, why you just moved to Finland”

“Never Say Never Again,” also on the Odessa album, matches that with what may be the biggest overreaction ever to being spurned by a lover:

“You said goodbye...

“I DECLARED WAR ON SPAIN.”

We all cope in different ways. 


And then: There’s this 100% proof absurdity:

Cucumber Castle

The song appeared on Bee Gees 1st in 1967.  The whimsical title doesn’t suggest a fearsome fortress. It’s a great tune, totally of its era but the syntax is all over the place, like Yoda in training;

“Said ‘Are you leaving or are you receiving my friend,
Do-est need any money till then’ and he did

He said “I’m the owner, not you, and this is my stead,
So give it to me now I’m dead, and he did, said:

Cucumber Castle be ever so humble it’s home”

That all makes perfect sense, then.

The title was resurrected in 1970 for an album and film, devised and written by and starring Barry and Maurice.

Robin’s decision to leave the band in 1969 due to an increasingly fractious relationship and miss out on this was some stroke of luck.

Which ran out with Sgt. Pepper. But that’s Citizen Kane compared to this.

Describing the plot is tricky, as there isn’t one.

Frankie Howerd, who is by far the best thing about it and also turns up in Sgt. Pepper, plays the dying King with Barry (Prince Frederick) and Maurice (Prince Marmaduke) his sons. He declares he’ll split the kingdom in two so Barry will become King of Cucumbers and Maurice King of Jelly. 

In place of actual narrative there’s an hour of nonsensical sketches showing us what the dual Kings get upto. This is interspersed with Barry and Maurice in soft focus singing a series of mostly syrupy ballads while surrounded by nature.

None of which have anything to do with the alleged comedy and are tonally jarring in comparison.

Barry features prominently as the dashing heart throb. Maurice follows him around, pulls faces and his starring moment is to sing; “My Thing.”

A love song. To his dog.

“Well… now, were talkinmovie.”

It ends with the lyrics:

You could say its unfair to see them written down out of context.

I’d counter that having watched the film hearing them in context is even worse.

Lulu appears, presumably for no other reason than she was married to Maurice and made the unfortunate decision to go to work with him one day.

She’s presented as the cook, but does no cooking and sings Mrs. Robinson (with manic pixie dream girl energy decades before it was a thing.)

For no discernible reason.

Blind Faith appear in footage from their 1969 London Hyde Park concert for no other reason than they were also managed by Robert Stigwood. Given that they split up a year before the film was made and their appearance has (you guessed it) no relevance to the story, I can only assume they were shoehorned in to shift some excess album stock.

It’s edited to appear that Maurice and Robin are sat in a tree watching Blind Faith. While dressed in bird costumes performing terrible impressions of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Obviously. I can only imagine what that personification of calm Ginger Baker thought on, finding he’d been cut into the film. I could quibble that it makes no sense that the film is set in a vaguely medieval era.

So, how Blind Faith fit in is questionable. But it’s best not to try and make sense of it.

It ends with the King deciding he isn’t dying after all, thereby rendering the preceding hour wholly pointless. Which seems an apt metaphor. 

If you read up on the film you’ll see reference to Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithfull and Donovan having cameos. Don’t be fooled into thinking this suggests any consent on their part. They all appear in the Blind Faith footage watching from side of stage.

It’s got obvious influences in the surreal nature of Magical Mystery Tour, Monty Python and Spike Milligan – but is relentlessly poor in execution.

Speaking of Spike, he appears as a jester to Barry in a scene that is the most painfully unfunny and awkward of the film. Which is saying something.

Just like Magical Mystery Tour it was shown on the BBC the day after Christmas.

Again, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a sign of quality.

Whereas The Beatles got a primetime evening slot on main channel BBC1, Cucumber Castle got 1:30 in the afternoon on BBC2.

If you want to know how well it was received?

Consider that it was never shown again in Britain and never shown at all – anywhere else.

It received a VHS release in the US but was swiftly removed from sale. The list of suspects for its deletion is limited to anyone who had anything to do with it.

Thanks to YouTube though, you can’t keep a good film down. Or a really bad one.

For all that it is a fascinating watch. I wouldn’t say its in the realms of being so bad it’s good.

More that its so bad, it had me questioning reality.

By the time all three reconvened the weird edges seem to have gone. After the debacle of Cucumber Castle their fortunes waned.

They did get their first US #1 in 1971 with “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.”

But from being chart regulars their appearances would be intermittent until “Jive Talking” set them up for greatness in 1975.

That’s another well told story, though. 

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” upvote!

21

Thank You For Your Vote!

Sorry You have Already Voted!

Views: 443

JJ Live At Leeds

From across the ocean, a middle aged man, a man without a plan, a man full of memories, a man like JJ.

Subscribe
Notify of
35 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
cstolliver
Member
Famed Member
cstolliver
Offline
June 21, 2023 6:01 am

This provided loads of laughs this morning, JJ, I suspect unlike “Cucumber Castle” (well, at least, *intentional* humor). Thanks!

Despite their frequent turns of phrase that, as Tom once said, make you wonder whether English was their native language, The Bee Gees had so many great songs in their first incarnation. My top 5?

5. New York Mining Disaster
4. Holiday
3. I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You
2. To Love Somebody
1. Words

I could flip-flop 1 through 3 and still be satisfied. It’s incredible to think they’d have several more runs ahead as songwriters and performers (70-72, 75-79, 80-84 as songwriters, 87-92 and 97-00). What a run. And U.S. listeners who only remember the “Fever” era are missing out on a lot!

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
June 21, 2023 7:48 am
Reply to  cstolliver

When Jive Talkin came out, I remember being puzzled. I thought it was a great record, but, wow, what a departure from convention for these pensively harmonizing English brothers. (Or were they Australian?)

Anyway, my two takeaways about these guys were always:

first, what great writers of songs they were;

and second, what an impossibly huge juggernaut their SNF pivot must’ve been, in that for most people, it virtually negated their previous incarnation.

For a while, anyway. It’s nice to see perspective on 2023: equal appreciation for the ballads, the pop tunes and the dance music output of the Brothers Gibb.

rollerboogie
Member
Famed Member
rollerboogie
Offline
June 21, 2023 6:47 am

This is a really great, funny, and well written deep dive into what turns out to be way more early oddities from the Brothers Gibb than I realized. It would appear that we here in the U.S. may have been sheltered from at least some of the madness, as “Lonely Days” was a big hit here, going to #3, and is totally familiar to me, and it came out in 1970, and was on the album right after Cucumber Castle. I am really glad you picked this topic and there is much to mine here (no pun intended). Awhile back, thanks to streaming, I was able to explore the Bee Gees’ earlier work, and though I found it interesting, in the aftermath, not a lot of it stuck with me. I did add the song “Turn of the Century” off of the debut album you mentioned to one of my playlists, as it is a fine piece of baroque rock. After reading this article, I think I need to revisit that whole era.

When one has musically come of age smack dab in the middle of their disco imperial phase, it was almost shocking to go back and listen to their late 60s/early 70s output. It was hard to believe at first it was even the same group. There are plenty of bands over the years that drastically changed their sound, but this is one of the more jarring and notable ones to me.

Phylum of Alexandria
Member
Famed Member
June 21, 2023 7:04 am

From a miner sensation to a major kyuuri-osity.

Sorry, that’s the best I can do.

Very interesting stuff! Especially since the only BeeGees song I knew before today was “Staying Alive.” Good to know what they were doing before they finally milked their cow.

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
June 21, 2023 5:30 pm

“We don’t have a cow.”
-from the film Kingpin

LinkCrawford
Member
Famed Member
LinkCrawford
Offline
June 21, 2023 8:55 am

Holy cow, I knew their early stuff was quirky, and know several of those 60s minor hits, but you really blew the lid off of their weirdness with this expose. It’s amazing that so much bad could come from one group (especially thinking about the movie), and yet they still ended up being so successful!

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
June 21, 2023 10:01 am

Until today the only cucumber castle I knew was the first line of a song by The Banana Splits called “I Enjoy Being A Boy (In Love With You).” It’s from 1969 so maybe whoever wrote it saw the Bee Gees movie.

It’s pretty good psychedelic bubblegum.

https://youtu.be/PJn8Q4BXxWk

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
June 21, 2023 10:44 am

Nor are they singing. It’s all LA studio musicians, including some Wrecking Crew members.

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
June 21, 2023 12:13 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

Yay! S5:E1! “What Makes Psychedelic Bubblegum, “Psychedelic Bub-“

I’m sorry. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Carry on.

Virgindog
Member
Famed Member
Virgindog
Online Now
June 21, 2023 1:23 pm
Reply to  mt58

Be careful what you wish for.

Pauly Steyreen
Member
Famed Member
June 21, 2023 10:47 am

I gotta check out Cucumber Castle! Sounds like one of those classic horrible events, like the Star Wars Holiday Special, that’s so freaking unwatchable it’s great.

It gives me a hint of the same absurd energy that fueled Jethro Tull’s “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles.” Total insanity.

https://youtu.be/H_toN5VfWBo

Last edited 1 year ago by Pauly Steyreen
R.S.Wonham
Member
Noble Member
R.S.Wonham
Offline
June 21, 2023 2:48 pm

I enjoyed the writeup and kudos for covering the Bee Gees, who don’t get enough praise, particularly in the US. The Guardian recently published a ranking of the 40 best Bee Gees songs. These are always highly subjective, but it reignited an interest in their early material, which garner more plaudits as time goes by. Scanning through the Guardian’s list, it is interesting to note how many songs are from that first album. I subsequently scored Odessa and Trafalgar and these are indeed stellar and the albums work well as a whole. Did not know about the film. Always nice to have a Lulu interlude as well.

Favorite quote from the article is “I Can’t See Nobody…introduced audiences outside Australia to the extraordinary voice of Robin Gibb, which even his mother said made her “go cold”. Singing lead, he sounds as if he is about to burst into tears.”

Robin is an interesting character and I also read that the Gibbs relocated to Oz from the UK as a young Robin had some behavioral issues. Bless him! Need to score a copy of that first album, which appears to be a challenge in the States, but also Bob Stanley’s new book about the Brothers Gibb. I respect Stanley, who has a great ear for music and is a passionate fan, along with the other members of Saint Etienne.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2023/jan/19/the-bee-gees-40-greatest-songs-ranked

DanceFever
Member
Noble Member
DanceFever
Offline
June 21, 2023 4:39 pm

Very good exploration of the early fame (and weirdness) of the Brothers Gibbs.
As an early champion of the group and born and raised in the stately Commonwealth Of Massachusettes, I am very fond of their song of the same name.
Originally intended for the Seekers ( who would record the song in the aftermath of Maurice’s death in 2003) they wrote the song in early 67 as the toured NY harbour and stayed the Regis hotel.
Ironically, the group had never been to Massachusettes and selected the titles for the amount of S’s in the name.
It also represented a response to the songs about SanFrancisco, the implication of the lyrics “The lights are always out in Massachusettes” signifying everyone had moved to West Coast.
It would be their first UK #1 (it hit hit #11 in the US).
An unverified tale is that on August 27, 1967 , Brian Epstein told Maurice
“Massachusettes is a great song and would do very well”. He died later that night but the song would sell five million records worldwide.

cstolliver
Member
Famed Member
cstolliver
Offline
June 21, 2023 5:12 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

I like “Massachusetts,” but that last line is what prevented it from making my top five of early Bee Gees song. Just too silly.

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
June 21, 2023 6:02 pm

So BBC 2 is the children’s table?

What I remember about ESPN2’s early days was their graphics. The network unintentionally telegraphed to its audience that your team was of lesser importance, because all the letters were in lower case. Now their platforms look exactly the same.

I have a soft spot for “First of May” because it appeared in a film called Melody.

Every time I see an actor doing his/her own stunt work, I think of Hugh Grant in Notting Hill.

The Marbles’ “Only One Woman” charting is a cool fact. Talk about foreshadowing.

This is great info.

So Robert Stigwood saw with his own eyes that there was a limit to Barry Gibb’s hyphens, and still thought Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a good idea? I wonder if Andy Gibb was supposed to starr.

Edith G
Member
Famed Member
Edith G
Offline
June 22, 2023 12:57 am

The Gibbs brothers were on drugs when they wrote the movie, weren’t they? After all, it happened in the 70’s.

stobgopper
Member
Famed Member
stobgopper
Offline
June 22, 2023 12:10 pm

Terrific article, JJ. The Gibbs’ adventure was filled with many twists and turns down strange alleys and over bumpy roads. When they hit the interstate, though…

cstolliver
Member
Famed Member
cstolliver
Offline
June 22, 2023 6:57 pm
Reply to  stobgopper

Pretty sure you know the origin story of “Jive Talkin” so your comment couldn’t be any more on point, Stob.

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
June 22, 2023 7:24 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Chuck, you have a memory like a steel trap. Well done!

Ozmoe
Member
Famed Member
Ozmoe
Online Now
June 22, 2023 4:02 pm

And now Barry Gibb is a Kennedy Center honoree. You couldn’t ask for better timing for this wonderful article. Thanks for a great job again, JJ!

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
June 22, 2023 7:23 pm
Reply to  Ozmoe

I saw that today, too!
JJ is working his magic!

cappiethedog
Member
Famed Member
cappiethedog
Offline
June 22, 2023 7:28 pm
Reply to  Ozmoe

I. Am. Not. Missing. This.

Jimmy Fallon booked Barry Gibb for The Tonight Show. It was his first network appearance since Robin Gibb passed on. You and everybody on the board probably saw this. After all, we’re commenting on The Bee Gees. The exposition is for the lurkers.

He performed “You Should Be Dancing”.

I just stopped looking at the horrific comments on the submersible at my daily’s site. (Not to be confused with the thoughtful debate on Stereogum.)

The last Bee Gee standing.

I teared up a little.

I bought his solo album In the Now. I think “Home Truth Song” is the highlight.

If Yvonne Elliman’s husband, a former coworker(whenever I asked him for help, he’d sing “I Can’t Go For That(No Can Do)”), wasn’t such a conceited jerk, I would have asked if his wife attended the funerals of Maurice and Robin Gibb. Barry Gibb helped make one of our own a household name for a couple of years. All the children of the eighties here on Gilligan’s Island, we all respect Barry Gibb.

I lost track of my point.

Oh, wait.

My point is that you can grieve for a fabulously wealthy person.

And an unmoderated comments section can be a thoroughly depressing place to be.

I guess it’s a longshot that The Judybats will get back together to cover “Jive Talkin'”.

cstolliver
Member
Famed Member
cstolliver
Offline
June 22, 2023 8:04 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

Yes, I’m with you regarding the lack of humanity folks are displaying re: the people dying in the submersible. It’s very disturbing.

mt58
Admin
Famed Member
mt58
Online Now
June 22, 2023 9:15 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

I’ve seen some of that over the last 72 hours. Astounding.

blu_cheez
Member
Famed Member
blu_cheez
Offline
June 23, 2023 2:00 pm

Articles like these are why I keep coming here. Pure madness, this…

35
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x