If you reacted with surprise to the news the Bee Gees are getting the A-list country treatment via a Nashville-recorded album of superstar collaborations, then rest assured you’re probably not alone. But further rest be assured, chances are you’re also unaware of the wondrous twists and turns inside that massive back catalogue of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb.
So wondrous, indeed, that every major country, Americana or folk act that sole-surviving Bee Gee Barry Gibb sought out for his upcoming duets project, Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook Vol. 1, would’ve needed precisely zero arm-twisting to be involved. Whether it was decades-long stars like Dolly Parton, Sheryl Crow and Alison Krauss, or more contemporary A-listers like Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlisle and Little Big Town, they all answered the call.
And why wouldn’t they when the person at the end of the line is frequently cited as the second most successful and prolific popular songwriter of all time after Paul McCartney? Together with his brothers Robin and Maurice, not to mention younger brother Andy who was a phenomenon in his own right, the Bee Gees sold hundreds of millions of records over multiple decades.
That “songbook” as featured in the full Greenfields album title is also among the most covered in music, with everyone from Barbra Streisand to the Fugees to Janis Joplin to Nina Simone to Elvis Presley to Diana Ross to the Smashing Pumpkins taking on a Gibb song at some point – often multiple points – in their careers.
Below is the track listing for Greenfields with Barry duetting with each artist (though with two additional solo bonus tracks as indicated by *):
- I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You – with Keith Urban
- Words of a Fool – with Jason Isbell
- Run to Me – with Brandi Carlile
- Too Much Heaven – with Alison Krauss
- Lonely Days – with Little Big Town
- Words – with Dolly Parton
- Jive Talkin’ – with Miranda Lambert, Jay Buchanan
- How Deep Is Your Love – with Tommy Emanuel, Little Big Town
- How Can You Mend A Broken Heart – with Sheryl Crow
- To Love Somebody – with Jay Buchanan
- Rest Your Love On Me – with Olivia Newton-John
- Butterfly – with Gillian Welch, David Rawlings
- In the Morning – Barry Gibb solo*
- With The Sun In My Eyes – Barry Gibb solo*
What that track-list shows is that a great song is a great song no matter what stylistic box we decide to put it in. Some of the songs are R&B or pop songs that can successfully be co-opted into a more rootsy arrangement, namely Too Much Heaven, Jive Talkin’, Lonely Days and How Deep Is Your Love, while others like Rest Your Love On Me, Butterfly and Words Of A Fool are pure country in the first place.
And then the rest are that certain kind of pop tune that can easily hang either side of the ledger between country and soul depending on the arrangement, like, for example, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, Words and I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You.
I always think of Gladys Knight & The Pips’ Midnight Train To Georgia as the easiest way to explain that juncture between two genres that are not as far apart as some may assume. There was always a great deal of soul in Bee Gees songs which is why they’ve been covered by so many black artists, as well as why the brothers were able to embrace R&B to such record-shattering success in the late 70s.
But a song like Midnight Train To Georgia is relevant because it was originally a country twanger from songwriter Jim Weatherly called Midnight Plane To Houston. The musical distance travelled from Houston to Georgia and from Weatherly to Knight isn’t enormous, but it’s enough to go from country to soul.
Once you grasp that, you can comprehend how To Love Somebody (recorded with Jay Buchanan from Rival Sons on Greenfields) can be everything from a pop song to a country song to a soul song. It’s part of why this timeless piece of music – written by the Gibbs when Barry was just 20 and the twins Robin and Maurice 17 – is regarded as the single most covered Gibb song.
As Jason Isbell has recently said, there isn’t a musician in the know who isn’t in awe of the Bee Gees impact on popular music, nor their ability as songwriters to span multiple genres. But just how far do the Bee Gees of Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever and You Should Be Dancing stretch into country?
Well, Jason himself is an obvious place to start with his contribution to Greenfields the resurrection of Barry’s unreleased solo song Words Of A Fool from 1986. As one critic has said, one listen to this new version of Words Of A Fool and you feel like this is somehow a song that’s always been in existence. The organ flourishes briefly hint to a grounding in soul – something touched on again with the slight gospel overtones of the lyric – but there’s little doubt this is ostensibly a country song and Jason absolutely nails it.
“Wisdom is fine, but the heart leads the way,” is a killer line and if it’s taken 34-years for this quietly profound track to get a proper recording, it was worth the wait. The way Barry’s background vocals meld around Jason’s soaring leads makes me hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard of these two together, but more on that in moment.
If it seems curious that Barry was writing works as Nashville-sounding as this in the mid-80s (and the bootlegged original proves this was always a country tune), a quick glance at the writing credits on 1983’s Islands In The Stream by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton – a song frequently cited as being perhaps the biggest country crossover hit of all time – happens to read B, R & M. Gibb.
And it wasn’t just Islands In The Stream because the Bee Gees had written the entire rest of the album that the song was from – Eyes That See In The Dark – for Kenny too. The title of one of those tracks – Buried Treasure – couldn’t be more apt because it’s an outstanding, authentically country song that few ears would pick as being the work of the Bee Gees. It is indeed, a buried treasure, and one of many in the broader country genre that the brothers wrote.
So with that in mind, and given the 14-track Greenfields has been announced as being “Vol. 1”, I’ve come up with my own 14-track selection of Gibb-songs if a Greenfields Vol. 2 ever becomes a reality. To whittle things down from a total list of well over 1000 songs, I’ve only gone for the most country-sounding tracks, but trust me when I say this is merely the tip of Gibb-iceberg.
Tim R’s Greenfields Vol.2 Suggested Tracklist:
Marley Purt Drive – 1969
The best song The Band never recorded? Why not! Barry sounds more authentically Memphis than Manchester than ever before, selling an unlikely story about “15 kids and a family on the skids”. From one of the best and most ambitious double albums of the 60s, 1969’s Odessa.
Give Your Best – 1969
There’s country and then there’s country & western and this – in the very best way – feels like the latter. Fiddles and banjos aplenty and one of the deeper-voiced BG leads ever laid down, this jaunty little square-dance feels like it could’ve just as easily originated in the 1860s as opposed to the 1960s. Also from Odessa.
Bury Me Down By The River – 1970
Where country meets soul you’ll rightly find songs like Midnight Night Train To Georgia, but dig deep enough there are songs like this that should’ve never slipped through the cracks. With backgrounds from none other P.P Arnold to tilt that ledger ever so slightly towards soul away from country, this is way too good to be a forgotten track on a mostly forgotten album, the hugely underrated Cucumber Castle.
Sweetheart – 1970
Sure, Englebert Humperdinck may’ve cracked the UK top 40 with his remake, and even the supremely cool Dean Martin made an appropriately cool recording of this Cucumber Castle album track, but the Barry and Maurice original is so country and so catchy it’s crazy it didn’t get at least a US release. Nifty harmonies from Maurice too.
Then You Left Me – 1970
Cucumber Castle is one of the great lost Americana albums of the 60s and 70s and even though it was only a two-man band at this fractured juncture in the Bee Gees history, there was a remarkable clarity of vision and execution. Sure, the LP flopped, but it didn’t mean it was a weak effort and tracks like this – complete with that whopping delayed hook of “bay-by” – show just how convincingly American those British-born, Australian-raised Gibbs could be.
Born – 1970
At the beginning of the decade they would ultimately come to define, the Bee Gees were no longer with the brothers estranged and focusing on solo projects. For Barry that meant going full Americana for his album The Kid’s No Good, a strong set of songs that got shelved when he reconciled with Robin and Maurice in the back half of 1970. Now 50-years on, the slightly fuzzy leaked bootlegs are all that fans have of gems like Born. A call-and-response singalong that recalls sweaty Otis Redding jams, this country-soul track has some closing falsetto ad-libs that pre-date Nights On Broadway by a full five years.
Victim – 1970
A gorgeous, introspective ballad from The Kid’s No Good that acts a precursor to the soon-to-be-written How Can You Mend A Broken Heart with lines like, “for who can mend a broken heart, when there’s no-one else around to show me how”. A Jason Isbell / Barry duet on this for Greenfields Vol. 2 wouldn’t go astray.
The First Mistake I Made – 1970
Sad and soulful with the melancholic storytelling of country, this standout track from 2 Years On is one of a handful of Gibb songs from this era of the Bee Gees that directly reference American place names, in this case Buffalo.
South Dakota Morning – 1973
Just two years before the Bee Gees reinvented themselves as a chart-topping, danceable American-influenced R&B band, they were knee deep in another American genre with the country-fied Life In A Tin Can album. While not a commercial success, the LP holds up well, thanks in large part to simple, beautiful songs like South Dakota Morning. Legendary session musicians Sneaky Pete Kleinow (lap steel guitar) and Tommy Morgan (harmonica) add further cred.
Come Home Johnny Bride – 1973
As big a country, round-the-campfire singalong as exists in the Bee Gees catalogue, Sneaky Pete Kleinow also contributes his famed lap steel guitar to this Life In A Tin Can album track.
Lost In Your Love – 1974
Mr Natural was a transitional album for the Bee Gees and while not the brothers’ first American-recorded release, it was their first Miami-based album, not to mention their first in the hands of the legendary R&B producer Arif Mardin. And while the groundwork for later, more overt R&B tracks like Wind Of Change and Fanny Be Tender might be heard in songs like Down The Road and Dogs, the country-soul that Barry and Maurice in particular always loved comes to the forefront in a couple of Mr Natural cuts, including Lost In Your Love. A slow building torchlight-waver that’s crying out for a modern-day cover.
Come On Over – 1975
Main Course, the same smash hit album that brought Jive Talkin, Nights On Broadway and Fanny Be Tender to the world is hardly a “disco” album, or even a straight R&B record, as witnessed by this out-and-out country song. One of the few Robin-led country tracks the Gibbs recorded, Olivia Newton-John also scored a US top 30 hit with it in 1976.
Evening Star – 1983
The best Barry Gibb solo album that never was are the demos he made for Kenny Rogers’ 1983 LP Eyes That See In The Dark. In many ways superior to the finished versions Kenny laid down (that Barry also produced), songs like this also serve as reminders of just how good Maurice was as a harmony singer. Maurice was swapped out for the Gatlin Brothers for the final Kenny recording.
Buried Treasure – 1983
Also from Kenny Rogers’ Eyes That See In The Dark album, and also featuring the Gatlin Brothers on background vocals on the finished version, the demo is another showcase of the two-man Barry and Maurice Gibb country duo.
So there we go! But let’s not jump the gun too much for Greenfields Vol.2 given Greenfields Vol.1 isn’t released until January 2021. With that in mind, here’s a sensational little teaser video for the album. Enjoy, and savour the fact one of the absolute greatest songwriters of all time is still at it and still furthering the legacy of his beloved brothers.
Barry Gibb’s Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook Vol.1 is released internationally on January 8th, 2021. It was recorded at Nashville’s RCA Studios and produced by Dave Cobb.
READ MORE: Click here to see the trailer for the upcoming big-budget, Frank Marshall-directed Bee Gees doco called How Can You Mend A Broken Heart. I acted as an advisor on this project – one of the highlights of my career to date.