To celebrate Barry Gibb’s announcement of his first solo American concert dates, here’s a charming little cover of the Bee Gees 1987 UK #1 hit You Win Again. Performed by British singer Sophie Madeleine in 2011, it was part of her 30 Covers 30 Days project.
On her YouTube site she explains:
“Being a child of the 80s, I have fond memories of this song. I can understand some people being put off by the thought of Barry Gibb’s beard / ponytail combo, but not I! I even kept the key change and fade out, that’s commitment right there. I hope you like it.”
Indeed the original music video (also featured below) did find Barry for the first time – and I believe only time – with a ponytail. But funnily enough, You Win Again is not about a ponytail. In fact, what is it about? Most people may’ve never really thought about that because the song is so catchy, so unique in its song structure and so detailed in its production.
The beauty of Madeleine’s simple cover – which includes vocals, occasional keyboard, xylophone, acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, ukelele, tambourine, finger-clicks and hand-claps – is that it directly alerts you to the melody and lyrics.
|ESP, the 1987 LP that featured You Win Again.|
You Win Again’s big sound makes it easy to overlook the fact it’s a broken-heart love song. Madeleine gets this – just look at her face when she sings, “Nobody stops this body from taking you,” just before the second chorus. And how about these lines, telling the story of not just a love gone wrong, but of someone who feels taken advantage, fearing they still don’t really know the person they loved:
“I find out everybody knows that you’ve been using me
I’m surprised you let me stay around you
One day I’m gonna’ lift the cover and look inside your heart
We gotta’ level before we go
And tear this love apart”
Still, it’s a relationship they’re not giving up on:
“I could never let you cast aside
the greatest love of all”
As for the song structure, it vaguely bothered me in the recent UK TV show The Nation’s Favourite Bee Gees Song (which counted down the top 20 most popular Gibb songs) when Ronan Keating said he loved You Win Again because of its simplicity. Ronan! Again, the song is so catchy it may make the listener (Ronan Keating or otherwise) think it’s simplistic, but look at the song structure and realise this is clever, complex pop music.
Like the equally catchy and equally unusually-structured Night Fever from a decade earlier, You Win Again casts aside the pop music rule book. Have a listen. The song goes:
Ad-lib: “Oh girl”
Coda (this is a separate melody from the first verse)
2nd Verse (but only a truncated version of the first verse’s pattern)
Ad-lib “Oh girl”
Chorus (but with key change, repeated with alternating lyrics until fade-out)
Not only is it uncommon to hit a new melody directly after the first chorus of a pop-song, it’s even more of note to then return to the first verse’s melody but for only a couple of lines. And during the fade-out the pause between the chorus melody that Robin fills with his “Oh girl” ad-lib disappears in order to sooner reach the main melody. This is all subtle stuff, but didn’t happen by accident. For anybody who thinks of pop music as either a guilty pleasure or as lowest common denominator stuff, a study of Gibb song structures disproves that pretty quickly.
As for what I described as You Win Again‘s “big sound,” listen loudly and closely to the effort put into this record. From the Maurice crafted stomps, Barry’s superb natural-voice, Robin’s soulful ad-libs, the back-in-the-mix falsetto background vocals, the occasional Barry and Robin unison vocals, the chugging acoustic guitar, the sprinkling synth lines… Ronan! Simple the song is not. For me, You Win Again is easily one of the greatest Bee Gees records and certainly a contender alongside For Whom The Bell Tolls for being their finest post-70s single.
The brothers frequently wrote melodic, emotional pop music of the highest order and that’s probably why they are arguably the most covered pop songwriters in history. Sophie Madeleine’s remake may not sound like a hit, but its honouring of the Gibb command of melody is yet another reminder why the brothers songs have been interpreted by everyone from Nina Simone to The Fugees to Elvis Presley to Billy Corgan to Al Green to Richard Ashcroft to Destiny’s Child. Not to mention all the artists they wrote songs to order for, like Frankie Vallie, Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and many others.