Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #25: The Bee Gees

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Were: Barry, Maurice and Robin were “The Brothers Gibb,” born of English parents on the Isle of Man, emigrants to Australia in childhood, from whence their global pop success unfolded, in various waves, with various soaring highs and crushing lows along the way. The Bee Gees are estimated to have sold at least 120 million albums over their long career run, making them one of the most successful musical acts that the world’s markets have ever known. 1977’s Saturday Night Fever soundtrack marked their commercial high-water mark, but the post-disco backlash against it turned them into loathed caricatures, and they never really recovered, emotionally, creatively, or financially, from that unjust obloquy under their own brand name, though they did have tremendous success in later years as producers and songwriters for other artists, e.g. Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, etc. Twin brothers Maurice and Robin both died before their allotted times (as did younger brother Andy Gibb, who had been officially branded the fourth Bee Gee just before his passing), leaving Barry as the sad sole survivor of his family’s incredible creative business. The 2020 documentary How Can You Mend a Broken Heart provides an outstanding overview of their entire career, and I commend it to you highly, especially if your brain immediately starts doing John Travolta’s “Stayin’ Alive” dance any time you hear the words “Bee Gees.” There’s so much more to their fascinating story, and you owe it to yourself, and to them, to know it.

When I First Heard Them: My dad had the 1969 compilation album Best of Bee Gees on cassette tape (he got into that technology well before most folks did, during his active duty Marine Corps time in Japan), and that tape used to play a lot around our house in its time, so I am guessing that was when and how I first heard them. That great introductory album provided an overview of their earliest pop successes, and also of their stellar original band, which featured Vince Melouney on lead guitar and Colin Peterson on drums; Maurice was the bassist/keyboardist for the group, Barry usually played guitar, and Robin generally restricted himself to vocals. After a fallow commercial period, which included Robin’s brief departure from the group, the Bee Gees re-emerged as superstars on American pop radio around 1975 with the R&B-infused Main Course album and its attendant singles, which also marked the debut of the signature falsetto singing style that defined their commercial apogee, and the emergence of their second great band, with Blue Weaver on keyboards, Alan Kendall on guitar, and Dennis Bryon on drums. I’d have been listening to American Top Forty regularly in those days, rooting for their singles as they climbed the charts, feeling smart that I knew the group’s back story, when most of my friends would have perceived them as some hot new pop item. Saturday Night Fever was utterly ubiquitous during my Mitchel Field years, inspiring both deep affection and deep dismay within my friendly cohort; it wasn’t my favorite of their records, then or now, but I was happy to see them achieve that level of fame, even though the blow-back that followed was painful and sad to endure.

Why I Love Them: In 2012, around the time of Robin’s death, I wrote a post here called I Like The Bee Gees. It remains one of the more regularly-read items on my website all these years on, as I suppose there are a lot of other people out there who may search for that title, proud to admit their love and respect for a group that has received precious little of both attributes in recent decades. I don’t think I can improve on it in terms of tersely answering this question, so I encourage you to click over there to read it before I roll out my top ten favorite songs by the wonderful Gibb men, below.

#10. “Sweet Song of Summer,” from To Whom It May Concern (1972)

#9. “Sinking Ships,” from “Words”/”Sinking Ships” single (1968)

#8. “I.O.I.O.,” from Cucumber Castle (1970)

#7. “I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You,” from “I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You”/”Kitty Can” single (1968)

#6. “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” from Bee Gees 1st (1967)

#5. “Jive Talkin’,” from Main Course (1975)

#4. “Massachusetts,” from Horizontal (1968)

#3. “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You,” from Bee Gees 1st (1967)

#2. “I Started A Joke,” from Idea (1968)

#1. “Nights on Broadway,” from Main Course (1975)

With Which I Am Well Pleased VIII (Days A Week)

In which I, once again, share a list of 15 things in various categories that have delivered me pleasure and joy in recent weeks. Here’s hoping some of them might do it for you, too. I hope you will share your own recommendations in the comment section if there are things that you think I might need to see, hear, watch, eat, read, or do!

FILMS

(A Displeased Note on Films: I have also watched Oscar favorites Nomadland and Mank since my last report here. I generally quite like Gary Oldman and Frances McDormand and their various projects, but in this case, I am decidedly not pleased that their most-recent films are leading in the buzz for this year’s weird Academy Awards season. They both reek of “Hollywood Loves Films About Hollywood” and/or “Hollywood Loves Method Stunts” to me, and I am not a fan of either of those tropes and they ways that they manifest in modern film-making).

TELEVISION

MUSIC

BOOKS

(A Displeased Note on Books: I do most of my reading on a Kindle, which I love and hate in equal measure for various essay-worthy reasons, and which means I don’t have much exposure to book cover art when I read things. As I searched for imagery for these three great new books, I was utterly appalled to discover that I could not get high resolution digital versions of their covers without having to share hard-printed “book club” bullshit with you, dear readers. Honestly: Had I been shopping for these books in a traditional brick and mortar shop, I never would have picked up Infinite Country due to its “Reese” logo, and I would have presumed that Klara and the Sun was dumb fluff because of its “GMA” logo, and probably would have skipped that one too. What a terrible trend in modern publishing, ugh!)

MISCELLANEOUS

Marcia and I received our first dose COVID vaccines this week.

Make Your Own Bayeux Tapestry

What Are 10,000 Words For? (Sedona #5)

(Note: Click on any image for full-size view)

PRIOR ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

10,000 Words In A Cardboard Box (Sedona #4)

10,000 Words (Bless The Lord) (Sedona #3)

Brighter Than 10,000 Words (Sedona #2)

10,000 Words (Sedona #1)

Storm Force 10,000 Words (Chicago #10)

Ship Arriving Too Late To Save 10,000 Words (Chicago #9)

Beyond the Valley of 10,000 Words (Chicago #8)

Return to the Planet of 10,000 Words (Chicago #7)

Revenge of the Son of 10,000 Words (Chicago #6)

Son of Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #5)

Yet Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #4)

Another 10,000 Words (Chicago #3)

10,000 More Words (Chicago #2)

10,000 Words (Chicago)

(Personal) One Album Wonders

Many years ago, I wrote and published a piece here called Personal One Hit Wonders. My premise was as follows:

Everyone knows about “one hit wonders:” bands who have one great, popular song, and then vanish into cult obscurity as soon as it falls out of the charts. But what about “personal one hit wonders:” groups that may have a ton of popular or well-regarded songs, only one of which appeals to you or me or anyone else as a specific listener?

I provided a list of a dozen songs that met the defined criteria in that post, and then moved on. Fast forward a dozen years, and as I was driving to the grocery store this morning, the iPod queued up the song “Baby Ran” from the 1986 eponymous second album by the Canadian group 54-40. I adore that song, and I adore the album it came from (it’s on my Top 200 Albums Of All Time list), but I’ve never really engaged or connected with the dozen subsequent records that the group have released. I’m sure there are wonders to be found therein, but they’ve not been my wonders. It’s not them, it’s me. For reals.

This got me to thinking about other groups and artists where one album stands out as a titanic classic in my personal pantheon, with all of said groups’ and artists’ other albums fading into background blur for me, regardless of how sales charts and critical consensus value the rest of those albums. And that thought experiment, because I am me, had to then become a “Top Ten” list, which I share below. I note the artist, the album, and provide a link to the best (or at least a representative) cut from each record, to assist in any explorations you might to embark upon.

Do you have your own Personal One Album Wonders? Hit me up in the comments section if so, especially if there are things you think I need to hear!

54-40, by 54-40 (1986):

Catastrophe Ballet, by Christian Death (1984):

Pre-Emptive False Rapture, by Chrome Hoof (2007):

Flan, by Dogbowl (1992):

Desperado, by Eagles (1973):

Üdü Ẁüdü, by Magma (1976):

Bat Out of Hell, by Meat Loaf (1977):

Exile in Guyville, by Liz Phair (1993):

Spot 1019, by Spot 1019 (1986):

Tall Blonde Helicopter, by Francis Dunnery (1995):

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #24: Reverend James Cleveland

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who He Was: Reverend James Cleveland (1931-1991) was, justifiably, known as “The King of Gospel Music.” The Chicago-bred singer, composer, pianist, arranger, and choir master gained growing acclaim through the 1950s for his formative work with The Gospelaires and The Caravans (the latter group including the extraordinary Albertina Walker, Shirley Caesar, Inez Andrews and Dorothy Norwood, among others), before embarking on a long and prolific featured artist/solo career on Savoy Records in 1962. Reverend Cleveland’s instrumental arrangements were radically influential, incorporating R&B, soul, and jazz elements into traditional gospel idioms, and his work as a choir master was revelatory and transformative, eventually spawning the Gospel Music Workshop of America, which remains active to this day on a global basis. Aretha Franklin’s critically-revered 1972 live gospel album Amazing Grace was the best-selling release of her career, and also in the history of recorded gospel music. Reverend James Cleveland served as musical director, master of ceremonies, co-vocalist and pianist for that recording, shepherding the Southern California Community Choir and an ace backing band (including session legends Chuck Rainey, Cornell Dupree, and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie) through a mind-blowingly inspirational, emotional, and powerful set of songs, recorded over two nights at The New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles’ Watts neighborhood. Reverend James remained active, prominent and influential until his death in 1991 of complications associated with HIV/AIDS, forcing a reckoning, of sorts, in the ways that churches have treated (and treat) their LGBTQ members. That reckoning obviously remains a work in progress to this day, but Reverend James Cleveland was a titanic presence in the history of modern gospel music, even if, in his time, and in his place, he could not fully disclose who he was and who he loved.

When I First Heard Him: During my early childhood, at my grandparents’ house in South Carolina. There were a fair number of gospel or gospel-adjacent records and (later) 8-track tapes around their house, and the one that I loved best was called James Cleveland Sings Song of Dedication (1965). Sometime in the ’80s, I found a big box of his classic Savoy Records albums on cassette tapes at a “fell off the truck” record warehouse, and bought something like 12 hours of his music for less than ten bucks. (Sings Songs of Dedication was one of those tapes). They were crappy quality recordings, but I played them to death, literally, mostly in the car when driving around on my own, singing along with Reverend James and his various choirs, loudly, enthusiastically, happily. When the digital era emerged, I replaced the few tapes that had survived, and acquired others, on various compact disc and music file formats, and I still play a big list of Reverend James’ best works regularly. Interestingly enough, Sings Songs of Dedication was the one record of his that I’ve searched for in digital formats for, literally, decades, and I’ve never seen it released with its original track listing (many of its songs came out elsewhere) in ways that I can readily play it in my current computer-based idiom — until this morning, when I was researching this article, and, on a whim, searched for that favorite record on iTunes, and was tickled to pieces to finally see it there. Hallelujah!

Why I Love Him: I actually wrote about this very question and its answers about 10 months ago, in the early days of this our Anno Virum, invoking the concept of “comfort music” to describe the resonance that Reverend James Cleveland holds for me to this day. Rather than re-typing those sentiments here, I’ll just send you over to that article for the back story. I’ll be here when you get back. Got it read? Good! Okay, so Reverend James may not have been the best gospel singer ever (his rough and ragged baritone is powerful and distinctive, if not pure and clear, and I suppose could be an acquired taste), nor the best pianist ever, nor the best arranger ever, but he was pretty darn good and boundary-pushing at all those things, had character to burn, and his music moves me in strange ways that few other performers’ catalogs can. As I’m searching for song files online to post my very favorite of Reverend James’ songs for this article, I do note that his later, more polished works are the most readily available, and that the same cuts from his later years seem to appear on a variety of greatest hits compilations, over and over again. But Reverend James Cleveland’s best work is his earlier, grittier stuff, where you often just get his voice, loads of skating-rink style swirly church organ (Billy Preston played with him for a while, before he started playing with the likes of the Beatles and the Stones), maybe a snare drum, usually a piano, and almost always a bold mass choir accenting those thrilling choruses. If you like Gospel Music, then Reverend James Cleveland is a must-listen. And if you don’t like it, then Reverend James Cleveland might make you change your mind. Give him a chance. He’s good, good, good. Amen. Selah. Right on. (Note: Reverend James’ massive discography is something of a mess, but I’ve tried to cite the earliest source recordings for the ten songs in my list below).

#10. “Something’s Got A Hold of Me,” from He’s So Divine (1959?)

#9. “Get Right Church,” from Crown Prince of Gospel (1967)

#8. “Meeting Tonight,” from “Lord Do It”/”Meeting Tonight” single (1962?)

#7. “God Can Do Anything But Fail,” from Today (1959)

#6. “Old Ship of Zion,” from The Soul of James Cleveland (1962)

#5. “Plenty Good Room,” from Crown Prince of Gospel (1967)

#4. “It’s Real,” from James Cleveland Sings Songs of Dedication (1965)

#3. “No Cross, No Crown,” from I Stood On The Banks of the Jordan (1963)

#2. “Lord Do It,” from “Lord Do It”/”Meeting Tonight” single (1962?)

#1. “Wondering,” from James Cleveland Sings Songs of Dedication (1965)

Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists (Series Two) #23: Pink Floyd

Note: For an index of all articles in this second “Favorite Songs” series, click here. For a summary of all artists covered in the original series, click here.

Who They Were: Pioneering psychedelic rockers turned progressive music titans turned arena rock superstars turned fierce litigants and creative combatants turned cultural icons of deep and lasting significance. The group’s formative members began playing together as early as 1962, with their original break-through line-up of Roger “Syd” Barrett, Roger Waters, Rick Wright and Nick Mason coalescing around 1965. The group’s live shows were epic and highly acclaimed, and their early singles and debut album (1967’s The Piper At The Gates of Dawn) have come to carry legendary and hugely influential stature. Barrett’s mental health deteriorated rapidly after their popular ascendance, and David Gilmour was brought in as a fifth member to support and supplement the group’s fading luminary. After one album as a five-piece (1968’s A Saucerful of Secrets), Barrett left the group, and Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason went on to achieve massive global success as both an innovative studio act and a truly powerful live draw. Their 1973 concept album The Dark Side of the Moon charted on the Billboard Top 200 Albums list for over 950 weeks, and it remains an audiophile’s dream, with incredible textures, production, engineering, songs and performances, along with a smart and timeless libretto that has spoken deeply, richly and meaningfully to generations of young people. Waters eventually (and somewhat unilaterally) assumed a lead songwriting and public spokesperson role for the group, which began to fracture around the time of 1979’s blockbuster release The Wall, when Wright was pushed out, largely at Waters’ direction. 1983’s The Final Cut was essentially a Waters solo album, with Gilmour and Mason being sidelined and supplemented by studio session players. After that album, Waters left the group, assuming that the other members would retire the name and get on with their own solo careers. He was wrong in that estimation, as Gilmour and Mason brought Wright back into the fold and soldiered on for for three more studio albums and countless live shows under the Pink Floyd moniker. It was a culturally controversial move that resulted in years of litigation, eventually, essentially, settled in Gilmour’s favor. Many fans still decry the Waters-less Floyd, but (to be fair) Gilmour’s voice and guitar were every bit as important to the classic-era Floyd sound as Waters’ songs and lyrics were. I think a lot of people presumed that because Waters wrote the words and much of the band’s music, he was the “front man” lead singer of the group, most of the time. That was never true, as he was but one (and the weakest) of three regular vocalists in the group, and to my ears, the greatest, truest magic of the Pink Floyd sound was the ways in which Wright’s and Gilmour’s keyboards, guitars, and vocals worked together, while presenting Waters’ certainly brilliant songs. Wright died in 2008 of cancer, but he spent his final years touring in Gilmour’s solo band, and they were truly special and wonderful together, always.

When I First Heard Them: My introduction to the group was through the breakthrough (in America) lead single “Money” from The Dark Side of the Moon, which I no doubt would have heard on American Top Forty and the types of pop radio stations that aired it, as it rose up the charts during the summer of 1973. Sometime soon after that, I was in South Carolina with my family, and we visited someone in Savannah, Georgia (presumably a relative, or maybe some friends of my parents, though I can’t remember who it was, exactly) for an afternoon party-type gathering, and as the adults chatted and drank and smoked (as they all did at the time) in the main part of the house, the few kids there (of whom I was the oldest) were sent to the rumpus room den-type space to amuse ourselves. There was a Baldwin Fun Machine organ there, and I noodled away on that for awhile, before deciding to explore my host’s record collection, while wearing their choice ’70s can-style headphones. Their album rack included an odd black gate-fold record with a cool prism and rainbow design on it. I didn’t actively make the connection that it was the album that contained “Money” until I got to side two and the extended version of that song (better than the radio edit, by a long shot) rolled out. That was cool, but by that point, I was already deeply sold on the music, the message, and the group that created the utterly brilliant The Dark of the Moon and unleashed it on the world. I bought the 8-track tape version of the album soon after getting home from that trip, and it has remained a favorite in every format all these years on, opening doors to the rest of the Floyd’s tremendous catalog along the way. When The Wall came out in 1979, Waters conceived of an over-the-top stage show that was so complicated that it only played two venues in the United States in its initial run, one in Los Angeles, and the other (Nassau Coliseum) in Long Island’s Uniondale, less than a mile from my high school home at Mitchel Field. In those pre-Internet/Ticketmaster days, physical proximity to the box office was gold, and as soon as ticket sales opened for that show, me and a few buddies raced over to the venue on our bikes and snagged our seats. It was one of the most amazing live events I’ve ever seen.

Why I Love Them: Many times over the years here, I’ve noted that there are three guitar players who make up my most-revered Holy Trinity of String-Benders: Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Paul Leary (Butthole Surfers), and David Gilmour. Now, add to that level of personal devotion the fact that Gilmour is also a truly exceptional singer, and that he had an utterly perfect vocal and instrumental foil in Rick Wright for most of Pink Floyd’s peak run, and you’ve already got a special group of note in my pantheon. But then, add in Roger Waters’ conceptual and lyrical work, which was highly poetic, profound, and provoking when he was at his best, and that takes things to an even higher level of acclaim in my book. And then, of course, there’s Nick Mason, the only member of the group to have served on every album and every tour from Pink Floyd’s inception to its demise. Is he a favorite drummer of mine? No, but he was just right for the roles he needed to play, and he seemed to have been the genial glue that held the other fractious elements of the band in some form of nominal stability, and that’s a truly important role in a long-term creative group dynamic, and worthy of value and praise. I’m probably something of a Floyd heretic in that I think that much of the recorded evidence of Syd Barrett’s time in the group has not aged particularly well, and with a couple of exceptions, I don’t much listen to many cuts from his era. But his early creative sparks and the tragedy of his later life are big parts of the Floyd story, whether one still likes his work or not, and that’s important too. When you get down to brass tacks, Pink Floyd could rock you hard on one song, then make you trip balls (with or without drugs) on the next, all with utterly pristine and magical studio sound, while making you think about things that popular rock groups rarely sing about, and almost never with such eloquence. Has there ever been a better “Headphone Band”? I think not. When I wrote my long form Best of the Blockbusters article in 2010, attempting to divine which of the world’s highest selling albums was the best from quality and content standpoints, I ended up selecting The Dark Side of the Moon, and that choice still feels right, and true, and accurate. I also selected David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock as my Best Album of 2015. When I did the original Favorite Songs By Favorite Bands series, the two groups that it most pained me to exclude were COIL and Pink Floyd, who have given me decades of regular musical joy, even if they were never quite my most favorite bands at any particular point in time. I now feel better having rectified those omissions.

#10. “Astronomy Domine” (Live Version) from Ummagumma (1969)

#9. “Brain Damage/Eclipse” from The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) (Note: I am probably cheating by counting this as a single song, but it tracks that way, and you can’t play one without the other).

#8. “Sheep” from Animals (1977)

#7. “The Hero’s Return” from The Final Cut (1983)

#6. “Comfortably Numb” from The Wall (1979)

#5. “Wish You Were Here” from Wish You Were Here (1975)

#4. “Run Like Hell” from The Wall (1979)

#3. “Free Four” from Obscured By Clouds (1972)

#2. “Fearless” from Meddle (1971)

#1. “Us And Them” from The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)