Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Spirits Having Flown

So, it would seem that it was a vertiginous spiral of depression that took Ronnie Montrose, not the cancer that he'd been battling. Does that make the fact of his passing more, or less, dispiriting?  I'm damned if I know. Perhaps, it was in a fit of pique that 'the Big C' carted off Robin Gibb on Sunday. I never intended this blog to be a series of eulogies to fallen musical heroes, but they just keep on checking out before their time and I feel impelled, in my cack-handed way, to mark their premature passing.

You would have to be a tribesman in the Amazonian rainforest to have remained untouched by the Gibb brothers' body of work. In fact, scrub that, there are probably people wearing hollowed-out gourds on their gentleman bits and sporting bones through their noses who at this precise moment are raising a glass of fermented tree frog juice to Robin Gibb and launching into an impromptu rendition of You Should Be Dancing. The Bee Gees were, and are, everywhere. More so than you probably realise. The extent of their influence on popular music and on popular culture generally is mind-boggling. If your enjoyment of the Bee Gees extends no further than watching them being sent-up by Kenny Everett on his TV show in the early 1980s, then your life has still been enhanced by them.

If the Bee Gees are one of your 'guilty pleasures' (grrrr!!!), I'll turn a blind eye this time, seeing as you are acknowledging their worth, albeit in a covert and cowardly fashion. If when you wander down the paint aisle at Homebase you can't help but think of John Travolta in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever, swinging a can of paint as he struts down the street to the strains of Stayin' Alive, then you're indebted to the Gibbs. Even the British Heart Foundation has recognised Stayin' Alive's worth in its Vinnie Jones-fronted TV adverts by singling the song out as the one to have playing in your head when performing CPR on a heart attack victim. It's perfect: everyone knows the song and it has the exact rhythm and tempo required to resuscitate someone in cardiac arrest. Even the title is handily appropriate. Never mind how many records they've sold or how many bums they've put on seats, I wonder how many lives the Bee Gees have saved?

They have though, sold their music by the truck-load. Wikipedia reports that the Bee Gees have shifted more than 200 million records and that doesn't take into account the many more hundreds of millions of records sold by the estimated 2,500 artists that have recorded their songs. Of course, we've had to endure Ronan Keating's adenoidal honking of Words, but for every grating, talentless abomination who has attempted to further his career by butchering a Bee Gees tune, there are hundreds of talented artists who have demonstrated an inspiring degree of musical empathy when tackling the Gibb Brothers' back catalogue. They've all had a go: Elton, Elvis, Joplin, Clapton, Streisand, Al Green, Percy Sledge... It might be quicker to list those artists who haven't covered a Bee Gees song. Hell, even the charmingly monikered Anal Cunt have boosted the Gibb brothers' bank accounts. Probably not by much, mind you.

Instead of tagging a bunch of Bee Gees performances onto the end of this post, I thought it might be fun to pick a few cover versions that you may not have heard before.

 First up are a couple of songs from their 1960s Baroque Pop phase. Ian Lloyd, as well as cropping up as a session singer all over the shop, fronted his own band, Stories, for three fine LPs before going solo. His cover of Holiday, the original of which was on the Bee Gees' 1st LP from 1967, is taken from his Goose Bumps album and features Foreigner's Lou Gramm on backing vocals. Next up are the gentle psychedelic pop stylings of The Marmalade performing Butterfly, and sounding decidedly like The Hollies in the process. And finally, just in case you need CPR after all that excitement, Dweezil Zappa gives us a riotous funk metal ride through Stayin' Alive complete with a Donny Osmond(!) lead vocal and guitar solos from Dweezil, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Warren DeMartini, Nuno Bettencourt and Tim Pierce. Rest In Peace Robin and thanks for the music!