Barry Gibb’s Mythology tour begins its US leg this month – see below for details.
It’s the first of May so it would be rude not to play the Bee Gees 1969 UK top 10 hit of the same name. First Of May was the only single released from the Bee Gees Odessa album – long regarded as one of the finest double albums of the 60s.
Aside from mentioning that the title of the song came from the birthday of Barry Gibb’s dog Barnaby, First Of May discussions invariably include the fallout caused by the single’s release. Robin Gibb wanted his lead Lamplight to be the A-side while manager Robert Stigwood favored Barry’s First Of May. As a result Robin quit the Bee Gees with the brothers not fully reuniting for another 15 months.
I’ve always thought both songs were terrific. Lamplight begins and ends in fairly eccentric style – a French sung opening over vigorously-strummed guitars with the same melody later sung at the song’s end in English. In between, Lamplight has a big, accessible Bee Gee chorus with three-part harmonies dominated by Barry. As a fellow Bee Gees fan pointed out to me, they see Lamplight as an equal Robin and Barry song, making a nonsense of First Of May vs Lamplight being Barry vs Robin. Though that’s how it played out at the time.
As for First Of May, if anything it was a braver, less-obvious choice as single. Not a traditional 60s pop song by any stretch (though nor was Lamplight), this was stately, orchestral music with one of the most unusual endings I can think of in British UK top 10 history. In radio-speak, you often talk about cold intros or outros meaning a song that begins with the full vocal and one that doesn’t fade-out at the end. The Beatles’ Hey Jude is an obvious example of a cold intro. Outros normally vary between chorus repetition in a fade-out or if it’s a cold outro, an instrumental resolution of the melody i.e. Billy Joel’s Piano Man, Katy Perry’s Roar etc etc.
Where First Of May is unique is that when all the instrumentation goes to leave Barry alone saying, “don’t ask me why, but time has passed us by, someone else moved in from far away,’ his vocal is fading down as he sings. Perhaps this makes the listener sit up and take notice. For me the trailing off of the vocal gives that final line an extra dose of melancholy to what is already a wistful song. Beautiful.
Ultimately neither First Of May nor Lamplight are my absolute favourite songs from Odessa. The best song Robbie Robertson never wrote – Marley Purt Drive – has always been my go-to Gibb song to convert non-believers who only know the Fever material. With Marley Purt Drive my Odessa #1, then comes a song from each of the brothers: Barry’s sad and soulful The Sound Of Love, Robin’s hook-laden Black Diamond and Maurice’s rocking Suddenly. The old-time country & western of Give Your Best rounds out my top five in an album filled with excellent, often surprising, songs. And I haven’t even mentioned the epic title track nor the Japanese hit Melody Fair, though that can be another day.
Click here to read more about Odessa from the website Ultimate Classic Rock with an article they wrote to mark the album’s 45th anniversary. I recommend buying the album to discover all its treasures, but in the mean time here’s First Of May followed by Lamplight:
Barry Gibb’s USA Mythology Tour Dates:
May 15 – TD Garden – Boston
May 19 – Wells Fargo Centre – Philadelphia
May 23 – Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre – Wantagh, New York
May 27 – United Centre – Chicago
May 31 – Concord Pavilion – Concord (near San Francisco)
June 4 – Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles