BEE GEES: BARRY GIBB & THE BEE GEES SING AND PLAY 14 BARRY GIBB SONGS (1965)
1) I Was A Lover, A Leader Of Men; 2) I Don't Think It's Funny; 3) How Love Was True; 4) To Be Or Not To Be; 5) Timber; 6) Claustrophobia; 7) Could It Be; 8) And The Children Laughing; 9) Wine And Women; 10) Don't Say Goodbye; 11) Peace Of Mind; 12) Take Hold Of That Star; 13) You Wouldn't Know; 14) Follow The Wind.
The «real» Bee Gees did not seriously register on the world's musical scene until they relocated to England in 1967 — but The Bee Gees' 1st, with all of its stunning achievements, did not appear out of nowhere, and even technically-officially, it was The Bee Gees' 3rd, since they already had two LPs out by that time, not heard outside of Australia, where they grew up and missed a good chance of becoming that nation's Easybeats. Presumably, tough-guy Australia deemed them too sissy for its own pop market.
Anyway, «Barry Gibb & The Bee Gees», including Barry's underage twin brothers Maurice and Robin, had really been releasing singles as early as 1963, and a big bunch of them was put out in 1965 as their first LP whose name basically says it all. Including, that is, pointing out the band's two major strengths, already well worked out: (a) that Barry Gibb knows a thing or two about catchiness; (b) these are some dang good, unique, harmonies — kinda like the Everley Bros., but three instead of two, which adds extra power, joyfulness, and sometimes even — dare I say it? — «spirituality». I mean, "My heart cries, ʽTimber! Timber!ʼ" — is that spiritual, or what?
Since there was nothing better to do in Australia anyway, the Gibb brothers spent a lot of time listening to the radio, and it shows. At the same time, at a very early age, they (or at least big brother Barry) understood that writing songs, rather than covering others, was the way to go — not only is it more profitable in the financial department, but you can also find awesome ways to pass other people's ideas for your own. (Not that this is a Bee-Gees-specific jab, but maybe the Bee Gees deserve to be jabbed a bit stronger than others, given as how the LP title puts such a strong emphasis on «Barry Gibb songs»).
So just about every song on here sounds like an adolescent attempt to emulate somebody else without directly ripping off the somebody else (not that somebody else would bother — takes a long way for the subpoenas to reach the faraway land of Oz). The Everleys, with their lightly rock'n'rolled take on the suave folk vibe, are one of the main inspirations (ʽI Don't Think It's Funnyʼ, ʽHow Love Was Trueʼ, etc.), but there are also nods to Motown, to the Merseybeat scene, to the new-and-upgraded folk-rock scene of the Searchers, of the Byrds (ʽAnd The Children Laughingʼ), and the brothers were not even above an occasional listen to some «cruder» boogie and garage-rock (ʽTo Be Or Not To Beʼ).
It is hard to say what exactly is so «wrong» with this album: in a way, there are no problems here that would not be characteristic of The Bee Gees as a whole — near-complete inability to come up with, let alone innovative, but simply «idiosyncratic» ideas of their own: from the beginning of time and until the very end of it, Barry and his brothers could only really work in other people's backyards. And these here songs aren't really much worse, on their own, than second-rate work by the Everleys: catchy, sing-along-ish, pleasant, with impeccable harmonies. Guitar-based instrumentation is a bit monotonous, but what wasn't back in 1963-64? Production is a bit scruffy, but what could we expect from a cheap Australian studio at the time? The hooks on the upbeat songs are a bit kiddie-like, but why wouldn't they be, with the songwriter himself only having turned 17 when the first of them was released? And he did write a song called ʽClaustrophobiaʼ at the age of 18, didn't he? Not every 18-year-old knows what that means. (On second thought, checking out the lyrics makes me wonder if Barry really knew what it means. Oh well, not every 18-year-old knows that it actually exists).
In the end, it might simply be the fact that the brothers were not quite ready yet, nor was the time quite ready for them. Even in their prime, they would almost always be writing and performing in the confines of a genre or style, but here they are still writing and performing in the confines of particular bands or artists — so much so that, if you already have the Beatles, there is no reason to cherish an inferior imitation of Lennon/McCartney such as ʽYou Wouldn't Knowʼ, and if you already have your Manfred Mann, ʽPeace Of Mindʼ will be just an infantile copy of their already juvenile approach (and at least Manfred Mann, in their early days, were accomplished musicians intentionally targeting the «innocent teen» market with their singles — the Bee Gees could only do so much as provide the basic instrumental backing for their compositions).
I cannot bring myself to turn the thumbs down, since I had no problems whatsoever listening to this — quite «charming» in its own way — celebration of «crass naïveté», but I do hereby confirm that the album is only of serious value for major enthusiasts of either the Bee Gees or that «wonderful early Sixties sound, when all the people were still little children playing in the grass» and «bad» music was impossible in principle. Technical detail: although both this record and its follow-up are thoroughly out of print (and seem to have never been released on CD per se), all of the songs, and much, much more, including non-LP singles, demos, outtakes etc., are available on the 2-CD collection Brilliant From Birth (not really, I'd say, but everybody is welcome to check it out and form one's own opinion).