Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Bee Gees and Andy Gibb Album (Part 3)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (1977, RSO)

A +

This is arguably the greatest soundtrack of all time, and the Bee Gees deserve most of the credit for that. There are only four brand-new Bee Gees tunes here (in addition to two previously-released sides from the brothers), but each one is a bona fide classic. “Stayin’ Alive” boasts one of the most infectious choruses of the disco era, as well as the disco era’s most iconic bass line and one of its best brass arrangements. “Night Fever,” with its lush strings, pounding verses, and shimmering choruses, defines its era perfectly and segues from mood to mood with such stunning ease, it actually takes you a few seconds to realize that the band has shifted gears. Rarely has Barry’s trademark falsetto sounded quite as pretty as it does on the sparkling “More Than a Woman,” while the mellow “How Deep Is Your Love” boasts what might be the most beautiful melody the Gibb brothers have ever crafted. But it’s not just their work that makes this album so brilliant. The criminally underrated Yvonne Elliman (“Love Me,” “Hello Stranger,” “Love Pains”) turns in a subtle yet powerful performance on her rendering of the BeeGees-penned “If I Can’t Have You,” and her own version actually manages to one-up the brothers’ own version that appeared on the flip side of “Stayin’ Alive.” R&B vocal group Tavares turns in a lush, flute-and-strings-laden cover of “More Than a Woman” that makes the beauty of the song’s melody even more apparent and stands right up there with “It Only Takes a Minute” as the best thing they’ve ever done, while KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes” is arguably the most underrated single that band has ever made (how on earth did it only peak at # 35?) and boasts one of disco’s most unforgettable guitar solos. The Trammps also deliver the most memorable performance of their career with the dancefloor epic “Disco Inferno” (“Burn, baby, burn!”) A caution to vinyl buyers: some later vinyl pressings of the album inexplicably replace the glorious studio version of “Jive Talkin’” with an inferior live version from Here at Last … Bee Gees … Live

Shadow Dancing (1978, RSO)

A

Wisely, Andy doesn’t mess too much with the winning formula of his last disc. Most of the same supporting cast returns, including drummer Ron Ziegler and guitarists Joey Murcia and Tim Renwick, and though Joe Walsh doesn’t return for a cameo, his Eagles bandmate Don Felder does pop up to play lead guitar on the delightful “I Go for You.” [Firefall guitarist Jock Bartley also shows up for a cameo on “Why.”]  Brother Barry is also fortunately a bit more hands-on this time, writing or co-writing (in addition to producing) four cuts, including all three singles. Just as was the case with Flowing Rivers, the singles are consistently fantastic. The title cut – a rare co-write between Andy and all three of his brothers which deservedly topped the Hot 100 for seven weeks – is a wildly catchy lite-funk number that packs just enough of a hint of menace to keep it interesting without detracting from the mood of the production. The soft disco of “An Everlasting Love” boasts a killer chorus that never lets up, each line flowing directly into the next, while “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away” – written by Barry with longtime Bee Gees keyboardist (and former Strawbs member) Blue Weaver – ranks right up there with “How Deep Is Your Love” as one of the prettiest ballads Barry’s ever crafted. The surrounding cuts are pretty decent in their own right, “I Go for You” and “One More Look at the Night” being the two most likely to get stuck in your head.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band soundtrack (1978, RSO)

D +

In what still remains one of the absolute worst career moves made by any artist at the height of their fame, the Bee Gees inexplicably decided to follow Saturday Night Fever by starring – yes, starring – as Mark, David, and Bob Henderson, members of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (alongside Peter Frampton – whose career never recovered from taking part in this debacle – in the Billy Shears role) in a movie musical loosely – very loosely – constructed around Beatles classics from Revolver through Abbey Road. The movie – also starring George Burns as Mr. Kite, Steve Martin as Dr. Maxwell Edison, little-known singer-songwriter Sandy Farina as Strawberry Fields, one-hit-wonder Paul Nicholas (“Heaven on the 7th Floor”) as Billy Shears’ evil stepbrother Dougie, Frankie Howerd as Mean Mr. Mustard, Donald Pleasence, and Aerosmith (I swear I’m not making any of this up), among others – was almost unwatchable, the soundtrack was no better, and hardly anybody involved in the movie came out of the project unscathed. Thankfully, the Bee Gees had the good taste to not rework any of the Beatles songs as disco tunes, so the arrangements are mostly true to the originals, but all the life has been sucked out of the songs and neither the Bee Gees nor Frampton seem terribly passionate about what they’re doing here, and you almost suspect that they realize that they’re setting themselves up for a critical mauling of the worst kind. Even “Oh! Darling” – originally a fiery Fats Domino-like R&B-piano number – has been depressingly recast as a strings-heavy maudlin ballad for Robin Gibb to croon a la “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” The disc is salvaged – and just barely – by Aerosmith, whose rendition of “Come Together” is every bit as good as you’d imagine it to be, and Earth, Wind & Fire, who make “Got to Get You Into My Life” all their own and deservedly got a Top Ten hit out of it. Ironically, these are also the only two tracks on the album that weren’t overseen by, shockingly enough, longtime Beatles producer George Martin, who you would have thought would have had the good taste to pass on participating in this train wreck.

Spirits Having Flown (1979, RSO)

A

Main Course is ever so slightly superior, but this is arguably a better album than Children of the World. There are three Number One hits here: the ambitious and symphonic dance-floor epic “Tragedy” (which memorably and cleverly uses a bit of studio trickery to simulate the sound of an explosion), the mellow ballad “Too Much Heaven,” and, best of all, the sinewy and eerie funk of “Love You Inside Out” (which pop artist Feist would later record a breathtakingly brilliant cover of for her solo debut Let It Die, complete with Chinese cymbals, saxophone, and turntable scratches.)  [Sadly, none of the singles from this album are quite as ubiquitous on radio or television these days as those from Saturday Night Fever or even Main Course, so they all tend to be quite underrated, especially “Love You Inside Out.”]  Though it was sadly never released as a single, the title cut is an absolute knockout and easily the best non-single the band has crafted since “Wind of Change” four years earlier. It’s a bit of an anomaly, though, casting aside any trace of disco – or even funk – and instead placing the brothers in a breezy, acoustic setting atop a bed of congas and a snare drum played with brushes. The melody and production both are so astoundingly pretty, it makes you wonder why the brothers have never tried anything like it before. Unfortunately, the album’s four best songs are all placed on the first side of the disc, so the album’s back half can’t help but seem disappointing in comparison, though it’s still quite good and gets off to a fun and fabulous start with the funky and catchy “Search, Find” and ends with the lovely, minimalist electric-piano ballad “Until.” This album shouldn’t be bypassed, even if you already own the three Number One hits elsewhere, and it would sadly end up – both artistically and commercially – serving as the finale to the most glorious period of the band’s career.  [Vinyl fans, take note: some of the 1979 pressings of this album were issued as fabulous-looking picture discs.]

After Dark (1980, RSO)

A –

This would tragically turn out to be the last studio album Andy would ever make (his career would soon get sidelined by excessive drug use and he would sadly pass away from heart failure in 1988 just five days after his 30th birthday), and it’s a slightly sad listen for that reason, but it’s also a very solid disc. Unlike the first two largely Andy-penned albums, Andy strangely contributes very little here in the way of songwriting, co-writing just two tracks with brother Barry, while Barry penned the remaining eight songs either on his own or with the help of Robin and Maurice or producer Albhy Galuten. Vocally, though, Andy’s just as strong as ever, and he turns in fine performances on these tracks, especially the criminally underrated Olivia Newton-John duet “I Can’t Help It,” which did reach #12 but really should have at least cracked the Top Ten; listening to Andy and Olivia harmonizing on the choruses (and trading places with each subsequent chorus, at that!) is as great a slice of ear candy as can be found on any of Andy’s albums. The album also sports the excellent, if somewhat haunting, Top Five hit “Desire,” penned by Barry, Robin, and Maurice. Other highlights include the incredibly catchy album-opening title cut, the BeeGees-penned gentle R&B of “Warm Ride” (previously a Top 40 hit for the band Rare Earth), the country ballad “Rest Your Love on Me” (a second duet with Newton-John), and the wistful album-closer “Dreamin’ On.”

Living Eyes (1981, RSO)

C +

The band’s first album of the Eighties is a remarkably disappointing album coming after such masterful albums as Main Course, Children of the World, Saturday Night Fever, and Spirits Having Flown. It’s hard to say what’s more surprising – the fact that they’ve gone to such extremes to erase almost every trace of disco in their sound, this being the least danceable and the most ballad-heavy album they’ve made since Life in a Tin Can, or that their knack for writing a great pop hook has fallen largely by the wayside, the album lacking anything nearly as catchy as “Tragedy” or “Love You Inside Out.” But it’s not exactly a terrible album, either, and it might have fared better had they not made the decision to issue “He’s a Liar” as the lead-off single – the frantic synth-driven cut is easily the band’s worst single in seven years. It’s unfortunately placed near the front of the album, right after the album-opening title cut, which is thankfully better but still could have stood to be sped up a bit. Most of the album’s hidden gems are tucked in the back half of the disc, so don’t despair if you find the album’s first side to be without much merit; “Wildflower” (which would have been a much better choice of single over “He’s a Liar” and the title cut), the lovely “Nothing Could Be Good,” Robin’s “I Still Love You,” and Barry’s album-closing “Be Who You Are” all go a long way towards redeeming the disc. Still, even the decent songs here aren’t enough to prevent this from being the weakest album they’ve made since Life in a Tin Can, and the overreliance on ballads really works against the album. (Granted, disco was rather passé by this time, but that shouldn’t have discouraged them from doing up-tempo material entirely.) [Strangely enough, what was arguably the best song recorded during the sessions for the album, “Heart (Stop Beating in Time),” was mysteriously shelved and later given away to Leo Sayer for his quite-underrated album World Radio. Living Eyes could have been improved quite a bit had the song been included here.]