For Anzac day I was trying to think of an appropriate song and funnily enough, a Bee Gees song popped on my iPod and there it was, the perfect song. A slow, almost genteel acoustic ballad, King And Country ranks as one of the Gibbs’ great forgotten works from their transition period in the early 70s.
Released in 1973 as the B-side to the South East Asian #1 hit Wouldn’t I Be Someone, this was a period in the Bee Gees career the brothers themselves have described as their commercial and creative nadir. It was in between the first wave of orchestra-backed, Beatle-esque success that produced countless hits like To Love Somebody and Massachusetts and before the even bigger second wave of R&B-infused pop, beginning in 1975 with Jive Talkin’.
But those in-between years of 1972-1974 were simultaneously more artistically and commercially fruitful than the Bee Gees may have realized. When I told Barry in an interview in 2009 that during this period they were still having #1 hits in South East Asia and top 20 hits in Australasia, Canada as well as parts of Europe, he said he’d never heard that. The oft-told tale of the stint at the Batley Variety Club in England in 1973 (where Maurice met his second wife Yvonne) is where the brothers said: “Right! This is the low-point, we will never be reduced to playing supper clubs again!”
And indeed, they were right, at least about the size of venues they’d play to. Within a couple of years they were back to being one of the biggest bands on the planet and within five years, they probably were the biggest band on the planet.
But 1972-74 wasn’t as bad as all that. After the well publicised split in 1969, the Bee Gees had stormed back to the top of the charts in 1970 and 1971 with Lonely Days (US #3) and How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (US #1). That wasn’t it – Run To Me and My World were transatlantic top 20 hits in 1972 and while Alive only scrapped the US top 40, it was an Australian top 5.
The main difference was that their LPs were no longer selling strongly in the US or the UK. 1973’s Batley stint was lucrative if embarrassing, though tours throughout Asia, Australasia and Canada during this point were all triumphs and in large venues. US and UK success may’ve been dovetailing, but in South East Asia they were still big enough to notch up two #1s with Saw A New Morning from Life In A Tin Can and Wouldn’t I Be Someone from the unreleased A Kick In The Head.
Which reinforces the point that even if the Bee Gees weren’t at the top of the US or UK charts anymore in 1973/74, they were still not only successful elsewhere, but prolific. Prolific enough to release no less than six studio albums in the first half of the 70s pre their 1975 renaissance, not to mention the widely bootlegged A Kick In The Head album as well as three unreleased solo albums. Perhaps a combination of the best material from 1973’s underbought Life In A Tin Can with the similarly acoustic and record-company-rejected A Kick In The Head would’ve been a smarter creative and commercial move.
Commercial fortunes in the US and UK slipped even further by 1974 with the Mr Natural album, but again, further reading reveals the album and title-track were bigger hits in Australia than the following year’s US-smash Main Course. This entire underrated period is filled with weird and wonderful songs, from the soul of Please Don’t Turn Out The Lights, Method To My Madness, Mr Natural, Had A Lot Of Love Last Night and Dogs, the blues-rock of On Time and Somebody Stop The Music, the pop mini-masterpieces of Walking Back To Waterloo, Elisa and Morning Of My Life (a major Japanese hit from the Melody soundtrack), the country of South Dakota Morning and Come Home Johnny Bride to the almost folk-like stylings of I Can Bring Love and today’s featured song, King And Country.
King And Country is a song about war and laying down one’s life. It builds steadily and then fades out beautifully with an orchestra. The lyric twist of, “to be always like children / afraid of the night,” which later swaps to, “to be never like people / afraid of the night,” always intrigued me.
For Anzac Day (which for non Kiwis or Aussies is a joint public holiday/day of remembrance that the two countries share, giving pause for thought to our soldiers who fought in war), here is King And Country: