Sunday, June 29, 2008

Covered in Folk: The Bee Gees
(Feist, Kathryn Williams, Moxy Fruvous, Ray LaMontagne +6 more!)



Bee Gees Gold was the first record I ever bought.

It was a used copy, already ragged; I remember the frayed cardboard at the edges when I opened up the album. I picked it up from some older kid at our elementary school swap meet. It cost a quarter, I think.

And to be honest, I have no memory of listening to it.

What I remember is the thrill of ownership. I grew up in a house full of grown-up records, but they weren't mine, and I wasn't really ready for folk and blues, country and soul. Like any suburban child of post-hippie parents, I had been given a small collection of great, authentic kidsong albums, but those were my parent's choices, and already behind me. The Bee Gees greatest hits were the first music I could hear on the radio, and then play again as many times as I wanted. Whether I played it or not wasn't the point. Buying it, taking it home, pulling against the slight vacuum that held it inside its sleeve, making a place for it on the shelf: it was a revelation, like discovering the key that unlocked the universe.

The experience of buying Bee Gees Gold, plus the rapid-fire acquisition of a used copy of AC/DC's Back in Black, and a few records released that year -- Survivor's Eye of the Tiger, Toto IV, Michael Jackson's Thriller -- would spark a lifetime of collecting and audiophilia. A quarter century later, my closets are full of long-dormant vinyl; the attic is stuffed with milk crate collections, and archived jewel cases. I download far more than I should, and digitize everything I can. My digital collection passed the 25000 song mark just this morning.

My students have always been amazed at the sheer amount of music on my iPod. But true audiophiles know that there's an awful lot of great music out there, and what if you have a hankering for something and you don't have it, ready to call up in the database? I live in a world of shuffle and playlists, theme and artist retrospectives, and new albums and discoveries. I cannot drive without a soundtrack; I look forward to mowing the lawn, in part, because it means an hour of meditative activity with headphones on. I build my summer around folk festivals. I spend almost every evening writing about music in one way or another, here and at collaborative blog Star Maker Machine. Listening, collecting, owning, sharing and enjoying music have become fully intertwined.

But though my tastes have turned towards the acoustic and the authentic over the years, you never forget your first.

In tribute to the record that started it all, today we present some of my favorite folk and folk-tinged Bee Gees covers. Most are recent indie-folk -- as we've mentioned previously in our Covered in Folk series, the tendency for artists to bring the songs of their childhood cultures into their own repertoires means that a whole new set of indiefolks in my age group have recently begun adding Bee Gees songs to their performance canon. And a few are tongue-in-cheek; it's hard to be earnest about something which will forever be associated with sequined bell-bottoms and high-pitched discopop harmony.

But under the glitz and glitter, there's a surprising power here. Turns out the Brothers Gibb actually knew how to write songs with meaning, after all. Not a bad choice, for a nine year old kid suddenly opened to a world of possibility.



Like what you hear? Eschew the big anti-artist commercial megastores; click on links above to purchase small circular plastic carriers of audible joy direct from artist and label websites.

Or, if you prefer downloads, and are interested in an equally artist-centric solution, why not join up at Amie Street, where artists receive 70% of all profits, and retain all rights to their work...and where, thanks to a sliding-scale pricing model, tracks generally cost less than almost anywhere else? As an added incentive to Cover Lay Down readers, the folks at Amie Street are offering you $3.00 FREE towards your purchase; to get it, all you have to do is enter the code "coverlaydown" when you sign up. Totally worth it, dude.


PS: If anyone knows of a produced version of Sarah Harmer and the Weakerthans doing Islands in the Stream, please pass it along -- I love Sarah Harmer, but the CBC recording that's been making the blogrounds is a little too heavy on the crowd noise and tape crackle for my taste...

28 comments:

walkathon said...

Ooh, Feist singing "Islands In The Stream" ... bravo and thanks.
Any Keller Williams = double yuck.

goovie said...

i'm partial to the a cappella version of "message" that fruvous tended to do live--it's on live noise and it's gorgeous.

boyhowdy said...

Walk: Saw Keller in a small venue a while back (150 seats!), and got a lot out of it. Liked the produced work he was doing then, too. That was a decade ago, though. Can't vouch for him past then.

Goovie: had Live Noise once -- great Psycho Killer cover -- but the CD cracked. The recording just isn't the same as being there, though. And I think I like the harmonies on this produced version better.

hemisphire said...

Huh - I thought "I've Gotta Get A Message To You" was a Fruvous original.

Now I'd like to see a cover of "Ghetto Superstar" (by a reunited Fruvous would be great).

Keller's very talented, a master of looping but the songs don't due it for me - I prefer Howie Day's work in that area.

Noel M. said...

Outrageously good stuff! I'm so glad to see folks daring to be uncool by recognizing the Bee Gees' genius. The fact that Brian Wilson introduced them into the Hall of Fame when they made it a few years ago shows how seriously fellow musicians take the Brothers Gibb, even if most Americans snicker in public when they hear the name. But in private, they want to hear this stuff because it fills the soul!!

Best two cuts to my ears -- the Bird & Bees version of "How Deep" and Ray & Damien's "To Love Somebody" -- I'm more interested in those 2 artists now than I was before. Plus, I want to go buy some more Bee Gees too....

Thanks!

Chris in Happy Valley said...

When we still had a big lawn, I used to look forward to mowing for the same reason.

Listening through your list. The Bee Gees really are not so bad. Much maligned, but unfairly?

Fongolia said...

Ah, Moxy Früvous' Psycho Killer is one of my all-time favourites. Also, I'm 95% sure that the Harmer/Weakerthans track was a one-off live cover doomed to crackle forever unless CBC re-broadcasts and we get a new recording.

Sweet deal for Amie Street newcomers (I'm a card-carrying member already). I'm gonna post a list of good covers you can find there, stay tuned.

John Anealio said...

Nina Simone does an amazing version of "To Love Somebody". It can be found on "The Soul of Nina Simone".

To piggyback on what Hemisphere said, I really love what Keller Williams does with the looping too, but Howie Day is incredible. What he did with a couple of loop samplers (Line 6 DL-4's for guitar geeks out there) was so unique and creative. It would send shivers down your spine.

I'm not sure if he is looping anymore but if you pick up "The Madrigals E.P." it comes with a bonus DVD of his live looping which has excellent sound and video quality.

boyhowdy said...

Thanks for all the recommendations and support, folks. Keep 'em coming!

"Someone" sent me the Nina Simone, actually...it's GREAT (though not folk); maybe I'll do it up sometime for a ReCovered post.

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