Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Bee Gees Odessa


The Lost Masterpiece Series
                                                           The Bee Gees
In conceptualizing this article I followed references to Odessa in various publications including the “The Ultimate Biography of the Bee Gees; Tales of the Brothers Gibb. It is a 700 page barn burner and page turner written by Melinda Bilyeu, Hector Cook and Andrew Mon Hughes. It’s a little more than I wanted for the article yet it gave me an insider’s view about their sibling relationships and how it influenced their one true masterpiece. Odessa was a double album that ran about 65 minutes; Robin Gibb even declared that it was not commercial; Maurice Gibb felt it had depth and obscure lyrics. Barry Gibb had mixed emotions about Odessa as the group was breaking up during the sessions and post production. He felt the band was in crisis…with each other. Perhaps it was the conflict itself that drove the creative spirit in the band. 

The disc opens with Odessa (City on the Black Sea) , it is wordless and awash with acoustic guitar, cello andthe swoon of wind, rain and an echo that gives the song a sense of foreboding. Robin Gibb intones the words in a stream of consciousness that reveal the story of the doomed British Ship;
“February 1899 the British Ship Veronica was lost without a sign…bah, bah, black sheep you haven’t any wool. Captain Richardson. Kept a lonely wife in Hull”
The instrumental part included flamenco guitar by Maurice Gibb and cello by Paul Buckmaster segues to Robin’s incredible vocal;
Cherub, I lost a ship in the Baltic Sea/I’m on an iceberg running free
Sitting-filing this berg to the shape of a ship/Sailing my way back to your lips
One passing ship gave word that /you have moved out of your old flat
That you love the vicar more than words can say
Tell him to pray that I won’t melt away/And I’ll see your face again
Odessa how strong am I
Odessa how time does fly
Fourteenth of February eighteen ninety-nine
The British ship Veronica was lost without a sign
Odessa is an incredible work of art, obscure lyrics, breathtaking harmonies and masterful orchestration. It’s a powerful reading by Robin Gibb especially when you realize he was only twenty years old at the time.
You’ll Never See My Face Again is a pop gem by Barry Gibb. It has a three chord acoustic strum that comes on like a pop song. But the lyrics are angry
Every single word has been spoken/ it’s much to late to change your ways
 Far to many vows have been broken/ You can’t expect a soul to stay
 It makes me laugh you’ve got no friends/ It took a thousand words to find out why
You’ll never see my face again.
 The soaring violins, insistent piano, aggressive acoustic guitar and the deep moans of the cello gave the music more color to the anger.
Black Diamond is all Robin Gibb at his most ambiguous and soulful. He sings
Where are you, I Love You (twice)/Where are you to keep me warm
I had a dream of a place far away/ I followed a river where the dead man would play
And I’m Leaving in the Morning (twice)/ And I won’t die so don’t cry
 I’ll become those big black Diamonds/that lie there for me
By the tall white mountains which lie by the sea/ If I come home and my woman has gone
Big Black Diamonds that lie there for me/By the tall white mountains that lie by the sea
I knew a man whom was as tall as the sky/Followed a river where thousands have died
And he was leaving in the morning (twice)
Say goodbye to Auld Lang Syne; Say goodbye to Auld Lang Syne (six times).
Another masterpiece by Robin Gibb
Marley Purt Drive is a whimsical tale by Barry Gibbs. He’s at his very best in this tale of a post-modern orphanage. Gibb’s has his hands full meeting the needs of his children. It starts with a perfectly concise drum intro, followed by acoustic guitar and a clip of a pedal steel and just a bit of banjo.
Sunday Morning woke up yawning filled the pool for a swim
Pulled down the head and looked in the glass, Just to see if I was in
Went upstairs to kiss my woman, to make her come alive
‘Cos with 15 kids and family on the skids I gotta go for a Sunday drive (2 times)
That’s how they are so I grabbed out the car convertible ‘59
Headed to the freeway, tried to find the Pasadena sign
Ten miles and three quartersmore I wasn’t feeling any more alive
 ‘Cos with 15 kids and family on the skids I gotta go for a Sunday drive
Jose Feliciano had a moderate hit with it. He deleted some of the verses and added his own delicious guitar work
Melody Fair was Barry Gibbs Beatles tribute. He felt it may have been too heavily orchestrated though it retained a basic rock & roll vibe with some country flavors as well, this was Barry’s soulful side. He mentioned in an interview that Melody Fair was influenced by McCartney’s Eleanor Rigby, “I was trying to make the same kind of statement.”  It was a popular song with a top forty construction of verse, chorus and middle eight. It was perfect!
Lamplight was another incredible stream of consciousness lyrics, soaring harmonies a perfect bridge between pop songs and the sound of a full orchestra written by Robin Gibb. A few people who attended the recording noted that Bill Shepard had his hands full doing the charts on such lavish orchestrations and larger than life arrangements. Despite all the rumination and misgivings of the principal players, Lamplight was an incredible piece of music that merged melody and harmony with sorrowful and obscure lyrics as well as Robin’s emotive four octave range. It was slated to be the Bee Gee’s next single but it was scrapped due to its length and obscure lyrics. First of May (a great song) got the nod. This led Robin to quit the band.
Sung in French:
Alors viens encore cherie/J’arrendrai ans après ans sous la lampedans la
vieille avenue
Then I may end/she had things to buy
I closed my eyes/yet I don’t know why
I gave her money; said she knew someone
And she said she won’t be long
Lamplight keep on burning while this heart of mine is yearning
I sat alone with my thoughts and laughed
Then saw your face in an old photograph
I didn’t think that I could live without you but what Am I to do?
Come back home Dear
 I have waited year after year under the lamp of our old avenue
I Laugh In your Face
Barry Gibbs sings this one at his most Beatle-ish. It is multicultural gem that evokes issues of state and church before it was fashionable. The harmonies are exquisite and the instrumentation is inspired. It opens with a minor chord piano trill is insistent and signals the chorus and it segues into a dramatic orchestral flourish that reveals the anger underneath
The circus is coming to see you/The elephant smiles
Everybody can hear you/ say that’s out of style
My brother is friendly for reasons/If I am the same
Just for 400 seasons we all live in vain
So I laugh in your face/your only one race
And I’m Right
I’ll pull out your plug so your small/You’ll slide down the drain
On the steps of St. Peters you all look the same
 This next group of neglected songs is composed of incredible little gems that have an avuncular spin, gentle and tolerant. The music is layered with piano, mellotron, orchestration, string arrangements, imaginative composition and instrumentation
Edison is about Thomas Edison, each of the Gibbs brothers take a verse with Barry hitting stride on the middle eight. Maurice gives the piano a workout, Robin on vibes accompanied by a full orchestra.
Whisper Whisper (Keep it Quiet). Barry Gibb is doing his best John Lennon vocal. The Gibbs are down to a 4 piece that includes original Bee Gee Colin Peterson on drums. This was Barry Gibbs reaction to drugs, sexuality and freedom of expression.
Give Your Best. This is Barry teaming up with drummer Colin in an attempt at to deliver a country western song and it worked wonderfully. It’s a square-dance with fiddles and guitars. Peterson described it as the best recording session he’s ever been part of. It included two anonymous bluegrass musicians to make it real.
Sample lyrics include:
I’ve done my shows, everybody knows
I nearly sold all my clothes
One man can give, another has to lend
So I just give my best to my friends (and so you should)
Suddenly is a quirky little tune written by Maurice Gibb. It fits his personality to a “T”.  He performed the song only once on the BBC2 on May 17th 1969. Sample lyrics:
How can you tell looking at me
How can you tell you like what you see
Suddenly there’s a boy in the rain alone
Suddenly there’s a girl in the rain alone
Sound of Love may contain some Barry Gibb’s most cloying and angst ridden lyrics, it misses the mark:
See the children play ball, see them play along the hall
It makes me cry to see them smile
I see the moon I see the sky, I see reflections in my eyes
And there’s no one to share my life
 Never Say Never Again was collaboration between Barry and Robin. They did disagree with some of the lyrics especially about declaring war on Spain. Here’s a sample:
Your lips could never show a smile
You never tried you just put me in a pile
I never lived inside your hole, child
I thought you needed me I never had no style
 In an interesting note the Bee Gees with Bill Shepard writing out the charts and hiring the orchestra decided to include three orchestral pieces, songs without words. The triad was a fascinating glimpse of the Gibbs Brothers growing musicality, possibly genius that was unlike released in 1969. It demonstrated the band’s versatility and total command of difficult orchestral passages. It was non-commercial music for the masses. Seven Seas Symphony, With All Nations (International Anthem), and the British Opera
First of May was the last song written for Odessa and it is perfect , a great vocal by Barry, a strong arrangement and a wistfulness about childhood and a lost love.
 When I was small and Christmas trees were tall
We used to love when others use to play
Don’t ask me why, but time has passed us by
Someone else moved in from far way
Now we are tall and Christmas trees are small
And you don’t ask the time of day, but you and I, our love will never die
But guess we’ll cry first of May
 The album was originally entitled Masterpeace or The American Opera. At the time people regarded it as the Bee Gee’s Sgt Pepper. Maurice Gibb thought it was heavy. I agree; it deserves another look
Over fifteen years ago I began to pour through archival material about the Bee Gees through magazines, books, Wikipedia and my own remembrances of their Concert in Detroit. I attended with my brother on March 20th, 1973 @ the Masonic Temple ticket prices ranged from 4.50, 5.50, 6.50.  I admit that I loved their music yet I was disheartened by the low energy performance. The Bee Gees seemed to be stuck in their own made time warp, sticking to mid-tempo ballads and never straying too far from all their hits.
It was four years before that concert when I enrolled in both the RCA Record Club and Columbia House. The deal was I would get like 10 records for a penny and from then on I was required to pay the full price of the other albums that I purchased. I went hog wild, buying up all those goodies by The Small Faces, Beach Boys, the Kinks and The Bee Gees. I bought Odessa, a two album set that had a cool flocked cover. I listened to the Bee Gees baroque orchestration and vocalizations without words and I was totally astounded. I had never heard anything like except for my brief visit with Brahms and Beethoven in grade school. I put Odessa away in the junk bin and left it abandoned and forgotten, that is, until I found a deluxe CD version of Odessa. It contained Stereo and Mono mixes as well as a third disc of unissued “Sketches For Odessa.” I was totally blown away. I even looked through my crates of record albums and found my copy of Odessa just to feel that cool cover and to listen to this masterpiece with fresh ears.  It was worth the effort.

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