So this is the story of how the Bee Gees Gold kept me from stabbing people.
It would be hard to overstate how much the Bee Gees were all over 1977 and 1978. They got hot in 1975 with “Jive Talkin’” and “Nights on Broadway,” then went full disco with “You Should Be Dancing,” which came out in 1976. With that renewed interest in their music, their label put out “Bee Gees Gold,” labeled as Volume 1, in October 1976. It collected 12 of their songs from 1967-1972, when they were a very different band (but one for whom the hits had disappeared).
Then, of course, “Saturday Night Fever” broke out in 1977. That soundtrack album gave the Bee Gees three No. 1 hits (and authorship of another No. 1, Yvonne Elliman’s version of “If I Can’t Have You.”) The Bee Gees were ubiquitous. Unavoidable, even.
While, like every single other person in America, I owned the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and like many others, I used it as gateway Bee Gees. So sometime early in the fall of 1977, I picked up this album, which was way more interesting to me.
The songs on this are amazing — not only do their harmonies really stand out, the songs were unusual, distinctive. In a way, this was my first foray down a Sixties rabbit hole — a year before I became enamored of The Beatles. I listened to this obsessively, constantly, and committed every note to memory. To the point where I could play the album in my head, even when it wasn’t playing on my turntable. Bee Gees Gold kept me sane. It was my line of defense against a now almost forgotten evil of the 1960s and ’70s — grocery store Muzak.
Admittedly, it wasn’t actually Muzak. The tiny butcher shop / grocery store where I worked after school my senior year didn’t splurge on actual Muzak, the piped-in facsimile of music that numbed millions of minds as they went about their shopping. No, we had something worse — easy listening radio that was a mix of all the worst music that a 17-year-old in the ‘70s could imagine. When they played a Carpenters song, that was both modern and uptempo for the station. As Joe Jackson said in “(Do The) Instant Mash,”
In the supermarket there is music while you work
It drives you crazy, sends you screaming for the door
Work there for a year or two and you can get to like it
I don’t work in supermarkets anymore
Even then, I couldn’t allow the possibility that I could get to like it. But this was before the age of the Walkman, and definitely before the age of tuning out your workplace, so there was only one thing to do: counterprogram my mind. Just thinking of random songs didn’t seem to work — it was hard to keep just any song in my head long enough to counter whatever horrible banality was playing over the store’s low-fidelity speakers. But, I learned that if I tried to recreate the entire Bee Gees Gold album, note for note, in my head, I could get through my shift without stabbing anyone (and this was a butcher shop – the risk was real). And so I did – day after day, as I was opening boxes in the basement, hauling cans up and down the stairs, inking the price stamper, I kept sane by listening to an album only I could hear.
Oddly, despite my love for this album — and I will go for almost any cover of “To Love Somebody” — I never bought another Bee Gees record. When I delved deep into the ’60s a year or two later, it was partly a reaction to and rejection of my high school self — and the Bee Gees were very much my high school self. I apologize to my 17-year-old tastes — even where they were good, they were mostly not cool enough to survive my college years.