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The Studio Albums 1967-1968 [Box Set] - Bee Gees (2006)
Audio CD
Track Listing

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by Nicholas James

This is a very much deserved detailed look at the group's first two years on a major record label. This superb box set is without question the definitive study of this creative group beginning its rapid rise to success and superstardom. It is difficult to see how this package could have been bettered and Warner is to be congratulated. It comprises six CDs - the three studio albums they released during this period (Bee Gees' 1st, Horizontal and Idea) and three bonus CDs with demos, non-album B-sides and unreleased tracks from the same recording sessions.

By the time of Maurice Gibb's death, when the career of the Bee Gees was so unexpectedly brought to a close, the brothers were producing an album every four years. It seems unthinkable now that they would produce three albums in less than two years!

Bee Gees' 1st is an incredible inaugural big label album. I have already reviewed it in detail here, but listening to it alongside the bonus CD gives it a whole new lease of life. Heavily influenced by the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Stax R&B, the album is surprisingly confident for three guys who were only in their late teens/early twenties. Stand-out tracks are the haunting 'Holiday', the fast-paced rocker 'In My Own Time', the psychedelic 'Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You', the soulful standard 'To Love Somebody', the Beach Boys influenced 'Please Read Me' and the Robin Gibb tour-de-force 'Close Another Door'. The timeless 'New York Mining Disaster 1941', the Bee Gees' first UK hit single, is also on this album.

But what of the extras? For my money, some of the earlier demos of tracks featured on the album are rawer and more passionate than the 'official' versions. 'Turn of the Century' and 'New York Mining Disaster 1941' both stand out. Previously unreleased tracks include the classic 'Gilbert Green' and the less impressive (but never less than interesting) 'House of Lords', 'I've Got To Learn' and 'All Around My Clock'. Completely bizarre is 'Mr Waller's Wailing Wall', with the Bee Gees as you have never heard them before! An early version of 'Harry Braff', which would be featured in a different recording on their next album also stands out.

Horizontal was the Bee Gees' second album, and it is much less Beatles influenced. I reviewed it in more detail here. In this album the brothers begin to go in a direction of their own, mixing commercial pop ballads, such as 'Massachusetts' and 'Birdie Told Me', with experimental tracks with playful titles and enigmatic lyrics. 'Lemons Never Forget' and 'The Earnest of Being George' both fall into this latter category and are much harsher, more aggressively sung and played tracks than were found on their first album.

Listening to the unreleased tracks on the bonus CD, it seems that the group had moved forward significantly from the earlier recording sessions. 'Ring My Bell' is an up-tempo '60s piece and 'Mrs Gillespie's Refrigerator' would not have been out of place on the final album. 'Deeply, Deeply Me' is a real departure in style and sound for the Bee Gees, with its (albeit slightly tongue-in-cheek) Indian influences. 'Sinking Ships', a B-side that was previously available on the Tales from the Brothers Gibb box set, is simply majestic, with its themes of death and despair that would run through most of the Bee Gees' early works. 'Barker of the UFO', Barry's eccentric ode to his UFO interest, and the melodic (if slightly Wombles-sounding!) 'Sir Geoffrey Saved the World' are further B-sides that didn't feature on any album but are most definitely good tracks. As with the previous album, alternative versions of tracks featured on the main disc are definitely worth a listen. In particular, a more conventional version of Robin's post traumatic stress-induced 'Really and Sincerely' and a rockier and popier early version of 'Swan Song' (which would eventually feature on the following album) are stand-out tracks. Three Christmas songs (two written by the brothers) finish the album of nicely.

Finally comes the equally self-confident Idea album, which sees the Bee Gees become more musically confident, if slightly less whimsical. It is reviewed in more detail as a stand-alone album here. This album is pure pop, but with the brothers experimenting with different sounds. 'Let There Be Love', 'When The Swallows Fly' and 'Swan Song' are great catchy pop ballads, whereas 'Idea' sees the Bee Gees in rockier mood, with a strong guitar riff by Vince Melouney. Real stand-out tracks are Barry's gentle 'Kilburn Towers' and Robin's wonderful self-pitying masterpiece, 'I Started a Joke'.

The bonus CD follows a similar format to the first two, and is just as definitive. Unreleased tracks include the fantastic 'Chocolate Symphony' and the stark 'Bridges Crossing Rivers'. 'Gena's Theme' is an unusual instrumental piece and 'Completely Unoriginal' is a studio warm-up that I am sure was never intended to officially see the light of day, but sheds a little light on the Bee Gees' in-studio banter. The single version of 'I've Gotta Get A Message To You' has a different mix, with excellent opening bass from Maurice, and the other alternative mixes of songs on the album are worth a listen, but perhaps not so engaging as those on the first two albums. 'Jumbo', which Barry says in the accompanying notes was written as if being sung to a child, is still a great song, which apparently was released against the advice of manager Robert Stigwood. The big ballad 'The Singer Sang His Song' was Jumbo's B-side, and would undoubtedly have made a much more successful A-side, being a truly great Bee Gees song. Two final oddities on this album are the two songs the Bee Gees wrote and recorded as Coca-Cola adverts, 'Another Cold And Windy Day' and 'Sitting In The Meadow'.

All three albums come with booklets which feature lengthy essays on each album, supported by brand new interviews with Barry and Robin, who provide contemporary comment on these early tracks, which makes for very interesting reading.

This box set is a worthy successor to 1990's Tales From The Brothers Gibb, dealing with this period much more comprehensively and definitively. It can only be hoped that the 'box set' treatment can be given to all the studio albums so that the true heart of the Bee Gees can be revealed further.

Why Buy The Studio Albums 1967-1968?

This is the definitive collection of Bee Gees music from their first two years on a  major label, one of their most creative periods.