September 1st marked the 74th birthday of a man who just may be the second most successful popular songwriter of all time after Paul McCartney. Sure, these things can be a little hard to quantify, but songwriter of 16 different US #1 hits, 10 different UK #1 hits, 21 different US or UK #1 hits and – by my count – as many as 39 (!) separate songs to top the charts in at least some country on Planet Earth definitely puts Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees right up there.
But September 1st also marked another major milestone in the life of this genius of pop because what better way to never forget your wedding anniversary than to get married on your birthday? That’s what a 24-year old Barry Gibb reckoned back in 1970 when he wed the beautiful former Miss Edinburgh, Linda Gray. And hopefully we all know what that means…
Happy 50th wedding anniversary Barry and Linda! It’s been one of the great pleasures of my life to interview Barry half a dozen times over the years, and in the process, to get to know the Gibb family. Barry and Linda are one of those rare multi-decade couples who still hold hands when they walk along the beach together. If Barry was a self-confessed rogue before he met Linda, everything changed in 1967 when their paths first crossed during a taping of Top Of The Pops. Three years later they were married and one of the longest lasting marriages in showbiz was born.
In 2013 Barry I and I spoke at length about his love for Linda in a radio interview that I later turned into a feature article for New Zealand’s Listener magazine. Click here to read how he described her as a “tower of strength” who inspired him to rediscover his passion for life and music after the tragic deaths of his brothers Robin and Maurice, as well as Andy.
So with Linda in mind, I think it’s about time we highlighted what I’d rate as strong contender for being the single most romantic verse in the whopping catalogue of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. More Than A Woman is simultaneously among the most famous Bee Gees songs as well ironically being one of the more underrated, largely due to the fact it was never actually officially released as a single.
Yes, the Tavares did an OK enough version* that appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, but it’s not a patch on the harmonic, melodic majesty of the Gibb original that also graced what is – at 45 million copies – still internationally the biggest selling soundtrack album of all time.
There was a rumour that during the absolute peak years of Bee Gee-mania in America in the late 70s that the brothers’ record company RSO wouldn’t release a Gibb single unless they thought it would be a US #1 hit. Given 13 of those 16 Gibb-written US #1 hits happened between 1975-1979, you can start to understand how this cockiness could possibly exist. But what it means is that a sure-fire smash like More Than A Woman got relegated to being a soundtrack-only recording as well as a pleasantly inferior cover.
Who knows, if the Bee Gees’ version of More Than A Woman been released, it could well have joined Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever and How Deep Is Your Love at the summit of the Billboard charts. And let’s not forget the brothers’ If I Can’t Have You that also appeared on the soundtrack, though sung by Yvonne Elliman, who took it to US #1, making it a record-breaking four US chart-toppers all from the same album.
The point being, the fact the Bee Gees’ original take on More Than A Woman has been such a constant radio staple for over 40-years strongly suggests it could’ve well been five from five US #1 hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. And if not a #1, certainly a top 5. But it doesn’t matter. Is there anyone alive over the age of 30 who doesn’t know the falsetto-ed chorus of More Than A Woman?
What’s far more likely is finding someone who knows More Than A Woman but has never really thought about the lyrics beyond that hook-tastic chorus of, “More than a woman, more-than-a-woman-to-me”. Indeed, that was me. That’s right, even this most diehard, trainspottery fan had somehow never taken the time to digest just what it is the Bee Gees are saying in those verses for More Than A Woman until just a few years ago.
It was only when I was trying to learn the chords for More Than A Woman on guitar that I was struck by the poetry of the song’s second verse in particular:
“There are stories old and true / of people so in love like you and me / and I can see myself / let history repeat itself / Reflecting how I feel for you / and thinking about those people / then I know that in a thousand years / I’d fall in love with you again…”
It’s so off-the-chain catchy that you don’t necessarily notice the depth of what’s being said; of stories “old and true”, of people “so in love” like this guy and his girl, of how he can see themselves in those glorious old tales, of how when he thinks about his girl in the context of those ancient stories he knows that, “in a thousand years” he’d fall in love with her again…
This is incredible pop songwriting and a reminder that the Bee Gees were so much more than mere masters of melody and harmony. A romance so epic it’s anchored in the greatest historic love stories of centuries ago? The drama!
It makes me wonder why my wife and I didn’t have this as our first dance at our wedding (sorry Elton**) and trust me, we weren’t short of Bee Gees songs at our wedding! But still, I’ve realised how I underestimated how More Than A Woman was so much more than just a supremely hooky Gibb song that somehow was never a single.
So here it is, but this time, try to really listen to those lyrics. And in closing, happy anniversary once again Barry and Linda – 50 years is a phenomenal achievement. Hope to see you both again before too long,
*The Tavares version of More Than A Woman hit #32 in the US and #7 in the UK in 1978.
**Are You Ready For Love by Elton John was the song and a fine choice it was! We really wanted Hall & Oates’ You Make My Dreams but The Warehouse had just started using it as an advertising jingle and we didn’t want our guests distracted about the prospect of getting bargains while at our wedding.