Along with a possible posthumous Robin Gibb album and talk of the first solo Barry Gibb release since 1988’s Hawks soundtrack, Bee Gees fans also have a new boxed set to look forward to in 2014.
Released in April, The Bee Gees: The Warner Bros. Years 1987-1991 will comprise five CDs covering three studio albums – ESP, One and High Civilisation – as well as a live album from the 1989 One For All tour. Bonus tracks in the form of alternate song versions will be included, though best is the addition of the 1988 Olympic soundtrack smash-that-never-was Shape Of Things To Come.
I’ve written about this song before, saying in July last year it would’ve been the ideal international followup to You Win Again (1987):
“Due to the Olympic LP being an Arista release – Whitney Houston’s label – and the Bee Gees being with Warners at the time, Shape Of Things To Come wasn’t really considered as a single. A wrong that can be righted 25 years later! Listen for the complexities of the vocal arrangement, with Barry in natural voice and falsetto for the verses, then with Barry and Robin singing the chorus largely in natural voice unison with overdubbed natural and falsetto harmonies including Maurice.”
This box set is a reminder for American audiences that even if they’ve retrospectively tried to pigeonhole the Bee Gees as a purely 70s act, in the late 80s the group launched a highly successful and quite remarkable comeback in the rest of the world. While 1989’s One title track did hit the US top 10, this period of the Gibb brothers’ career is notable for substantial UK, European, South American, Asian and Australasian hits that somehow missed Stateside.
Songs like You Win Again, ESP, One, Wish You Were Here, Ordinary Lives, Secret Love and The Only Love all achieved significant – and sometimes even #1 – chart positions at least somewhere on the globe. When you also consider the brothers released the fan favourite Size Isn’t Everything LP (on Polygram rather than Warners) in 1993, their output was an impressive four studio albums in just six years. This would’ve been slowish going in the 60s, but in the late 80s / early 90s it was unusually prolific for an established act.
Size Isn’t Everything produced a further three UK top 30 hits, including the top five For Whom The Bell Tolls, which like Wish You Were Here and One in 1989, was a #1 in parts of South America. Speaking of which, why was Wish You Were Here left unreleased as a single in the US and the UK? This tribute to younger brother Andy was simultaneously devastating and highly commercial and the story behind the song would’ve surely aided its success.
Here are three essential songs from each of the studio LPs from 87-91. By “essential,” I am taking into account music, lyrics, production and good, honest gut feel to make my picks and many favourites are left out.
Personally, I’ve never understood why fans seem less enthused with ESP than they are with One. I can appreciate that High Civilisation’s lengthy songs (especially in the intro department) and heavy electronic production could make it a less immediate listen, but that LP too contains the same connecting threads all Bee Gees albums have: the hook-filled melodies, the harmonies and the emotional lyrics of nothing less than superb craftsmen.
Hopefully this boxed set is just the start of a further roll-out of classic Bee Gees albums by Warners. I’d love to see Cucumber Castle (1969) reissued, a box-set of LPs from 1970-1974 and official CD releases of A Kick In The Head (1973) and the long deleted (outside of Japan) Living Eyes (1981). An album of off-cuts wouldn’t go astray either, a point rammed home by the quality of 90s leftovers like My Destiny, 855-7019, Rings Around The Moon, Love Never Dies and the Lulu-sung Let Me Wakeup In Your Arms. One day. In the meantime, here are my nine selections:
From ESP – You Win Again, The Longest Night, Angela:
From One – Ordinary Lives, Wish You Were Here, Tears:
From High Civilisation – Secret Love, Happy Ever After, Ghost Train: