The Bee Gees recorded music in a number of different styles over the years. And they always had lots of soul in it too. Their breakthrough international hit “To Love Somebody” was written for Otis Redding. They recorded it themselves only after he died before he got the chance to record his version. After a period of focusing primarily on baroque balladry, the Gibb brothers re-upped with the late Arif Mardin to produce their 1974 album Mr. Natural. Their followup Main Course reinvented them as contemporary soul/funk artists. Perfect for the disco era-especially with Barry’s fiery falsetto vocals.
After that breakthrough success, Robert Stigwood’s label RSO ended its distribution deal with Atlantic Records \. This meant they could no longer work with Arif Mardin due to the contractual conflict of interest. Barry, Robin and Maurice decided to produce the album themselves-hoping to extend on their new sound. Like Hall & Oates after them, self production proved to be their friend. Their 1976 album Children Of The World, recorded in Quebec, continued the winning streak. One album track that really stands out for me is “You Stepped Into My Life”.
The drum roll of Dennis Bryon gets the groove going into a slow and ultra funky beat. The snaky Fender Rhodes of Blue Weaver accompanies Barry and Maurice’s thick,wah wah fueled bass/rhythm guitar interactions. Weaver’s layered synth strings melodically lead the way for Barry’s falsetto lead. This musical combination represents the chorus. String arrangements lead the melody on the along with this rhythm section on the refrains. On the closing trail of the song, the chorus extends into a bluesy lead wah wah played smoothly by Alan Kendall as the song fades out.
The first time I heard this song, it was an equally funky (if somewhat faster) version done by Melba Moore in 1978. This original version is solid proof that a dance song is at its funkiest when the tempo of the rhythm is slower. The whole vibe is similar to Donna Summer’s “Love To Love You Baby-especially the “funk functioning for the disco era” aspect of it. The groove of this song is just super infectious. And the Gibb’s wonderful way with song structure takes it to the next level. Very much like the majority of the Bee Gees output during the mid to late 70’s.
The Bee Gee’s had run their intricately constructed baroque ballad formula to the point of exhaustion by the mid 70’s. After a string of albums with only a moderately performed commercial performance Barry,Maurice and Robin Gibb regrouped with their producer at the time Arif Mardin to record an album in the style of the American R&B artists Mardin was producing,and that they were listening to at the time. The result was their 1975 album Main Course. The album succeeded not only in totally reviving them commercially, but reinventing them as contemporary artists with a different musical approach.
On a personal level,I grew up taking the Bee Gee’s mid/late 70’s heyday very much for granted. Not only were many of these songs played often. But the post disco push back didn’t exactly endear their music from the period to a lot of people around me. During the 90’s and 2000’s however,the Bee Gee’s of this period began to get re-evaluation. And their songs from 1975-1979 are generally regarded as classics today. Main Course is one of my favorite albums of theirs from this period. Its pretty diverse,but filled with soulful and funky songs too. And it begins with a particular favorite of mine called “Jive Talkin'”.
A shuffling chicken scratch guitar opens the song. First,the snare drum builds into the groove,then the round Moog bass underneath-followed by a higher pitched rhythm guitar with more sustain to it. After this,the swinging 4/4 beat comes into the song-accented by a galloping snare on the second beat. This is what accompanies the vocals on both the chorus and refrains-the latter of which singles out the Moog bass more to accent the melody. Between each verse,a higher pitched synthesizer plays a melodic horn line. The intro repeats at a choral bridge before the main chorus fades out the song.
One thing that songs such as “Jive Talkin” indicated was how much the Gibb brothers understood their funk and soul source material of the time. Their already complex songwriting style expanded outward here. Bee Gee’s songs had generally been built upon folk and Northern soul approaches in the beginning. On here,they began building on rhythm based melodies that bounced,sang and had plenty of contemporary touches (such as the synthesized bass) that made it clear that understood exactly what Stevie Wonder and Billy Preston had been musically innovating at this point in time.