Words…A Bee Gees Songbook.

Label: Playback Records.

Format: CD.

During a career that began in 1958 and lasted until 2009 the Bee Gees sold over 120 million records and are one of the biggest selling groups in the history of modern music. “Britain’s first family of harmony” won five Grammy Awards for the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1978 and 1979 and in 1997 were inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  By then, the Bee Gees were enjoying a glittering career.

When they released their thirteenth studio album Main Course which was released in 1975 it was certified gold in America and double platinum in Canada. Little did the Robin, Barry and Maurice Gibb realise that this was the start of the most successful period of their career. Right through until the Bee Gees released their twenty-second and  final studio album This Is Where I Came In, which was released in April 2001 every album was certified gold or platinum.

The secret to their success was their inimitable three-part harmonies and the hook-laden songs the Gibb brothers wrote. As songwriters they were master craftsmen who had the Midas touch.

That’s why so many artists and bands around the world have covered the Bee Gees songs over the last six decades. This includes the twenty-seven on Words…A Bee Gees Songbook which was released by the Australian label Playback Records. This lovingly compiled compilation features contributions from familiar faces and new names including Mike Furber, The Richard Wright Group, Noeleen Batley, The Cyrkle, The Marmalade, Cilla Black, Lulu, Jose Feliciano, Nina Simone, Swamp Dogg, Martin Carthy, The Seekers and The Searchers. They cover some of the Gibb brothers’ best known song while others dig deeper into their songbook for the oft-overlooked hidden gems. 

Opening Words…A Bee Gees Songbook is Mike Furber’s cover of Where Are You. It’s the title-track from the 1967 EP by Sydney-based musician and vocalist Mike Furber and The Bowery Boys who were his regular backing band. The EP was released on the Kommotion label but wasn’t a commercial success. That’s despite the uptempo, soulful sounding title-track which sometimes sounds as if it’s been influenced by The Hollies. Sadly, the EP was the last release from Mike Furber and The Bowery Boys and nowadays is regarded as one of their finest songs.

In 1966, the Sydney-based The Richard Wright Group  recorded a rocking cover of Neither Rich Nor Poor which they released as their single on HMV. It gave the group a local hit single in May 1966 and was the first of three singles they released.

Noeleen Batley came to prominence during the early sixties and was part of the early Australian pop scene. Initially she was a teen idol but Little Miss Sweetheart graduated to the cabaret circuit. By 1965, she was signed to the Festival label and in October of that year released a cover of Watching The Hours Go By. It was written by Barry Gibb and was recorded in 3/4 time. The result was one of Noeleen Batley’s finest recordings which is a welcome addition to the compilation.

Initially, The Cyrkle were purveyors of bubble gum pop which brought a degree of success their way. However, when the hits dried up they decided to cover Turn Of The Century which was released on Columbia in November 1967. Rather than try to reinvent the song, the group stayed true to the Bee Gees original. Sadly, the single failed to find an audience and nowadays is a regarded as a hidden gem

Soft Pillow only ever released a couple of singles including their cover of Gilbert Green which was released on the Park label in the group’s native Belgium in January 1969. It’s a fusion of pop-rock and psychedelia  where a piano, lush strings and horns play a leading role on this hidden gem that sadly, is all too often overlooked by compilers. It’s another welcome addition to Words…A Bee Gees Songbook.

The Cole Brothers from Margate, New Jersey, released a cover of I Can’t See Nobody on the Jamie label in 1967. It was arranged by Richard Rome and produced by Kit Stewart who stay true to the original on this catchy cover.

By 1967, Jackie Lomax had signed to CBS and was working with producer Robert Stigwood. They recorded Genuine Imitation Life which was released as a single. On the B-Side was One Minute Woman which features a heartfelt, impassioned and soulful vocal from the Liverpool-born singer who sadly never enjoyed the commercial success his considerable talent deserved.

Scottish pop-rock group The Marmalade covered Butterfly which was released as their final single by CBS in October 1969. It was arranged by Keith Mansfield a future giant of library music, who is responsible for the sweeping strings and horns which punctuate what’s a stunning arrangement. Mike Smith takes charge of the production on this melodic and memorable cover which sadly, was the one that got away for The Marmalade. 

Although Jose Feliciano was known for his easy listening sound, he wasn’t averse to bowling a curveball and reinventing tracks. This included his cover of Marley Purt Drive which he released as a single on RCA in 1969. It was arranged and produced by Rick Jarard. His arrangement combines elements of country rock with gospel-tinged and soulful harmonies as Jose Feliciano unleashes a impassioned and emotive vocal.

Nina Simone released a dramatic reading cover of To Love Somebody as a single on RCA Victor in 1968 and gave her a hit single in Britain. In 1969, the Gibb brothers composition lent its name to her new album. The title-track was one of the highlights of the album and features  The High Priestess of Soul at the peak of her powers.

Charismatic describes Swamp Dogg who covered Got To Get A Message To You on his 1971 album Rat On. It features a soulful and impassioned rendition this Bee Gees song.

In 1998, Martin Carthy covered New York Mine Disaster for his album Signs Of Life which was released on Topic Records. This acoustic cover features a  wistful vocal that’s full of emotion as the veteran folk singer takes the song in a new direction.

When The Seekers recorded the Bee Gees summer of love anthem Massachusetts they decided to stayed true to the original. The song made its debut on The Ultimate Compilation which was released by EMI in 2003. It returns for a well-deserved encore on Words…A Bee Gees Songbook.

Closing the compilation is The Searchers’ cover of Spicks and Specks. It was released as single on RCA in 1973. By then, the group’s glory years were in the past and they were trying to kickstart their career. They decided to head in the direction of glam pop on this stomping and rousing anthem which shows another side to The Searchers and closes Words…A Bee Gees Songbook with another hidden gem that thankfully has been unearthed.

For anyone with even a passing interest in the Bee Gees’  music this lovingly compiled collection of covers of twenty-seven of their songs is worth adding to their collection. Words…A Bee Gees Songbook is a mixture of tracks from familiar faces and what will be new names to many people. They cover classic tracks, hidden gems and deep cuts on Words…A Bee Gees Songbook which was released by Australian label Playback Records and is a compilation that oozes quality.

Words…A Bee Gees Songbook.

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