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Musical Maunderings in Sunni's Salon

March 2007

Okay, I am done with apologizing for or dodging the fact that I adore a lot of the Bee Gees’ music. I hopped on their, er, bandwagon well before the disco era began, and I never really hopped off. Jive Talkin’, from the 1975 album Main Course hooked me; hoping for similar songs, I delved into their discography, and instead of getting more of the same, I discovered a realm of lush harmonies and hauntingly original, diverse music. Back then, the lead vocals were roughly balanced between Barry Gibb’s versatile tenor and Robin Gibb’s richer, higher voice, with nary a falsetto around. Between the wonderful vocals, catchy melodic hooks, and unique takes on romantic themes, the Bee Gees fed me a lot of what I love best in music, and little that I dislike. In fact, they are probably responsible for my abiding affection for hopelessly romantic music. One song that epitomizes the entire package is I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You, from Idea. The subtle, jangly cymbal during the chorus may go unnoticed by many listeners, but it’s typical of the musicianship the band demonstrated.

As a teen, I owned several of their pop albums, including Odessa, Trafalgar, To Whom It May Concern, and their Best of Bee Gees and Best of Bee Gees, Vol. 2. I miss those albums enormously, along with their later work, which is to my ear much more rhythm and blues with a singular Brit twist than actual disco: Spirits Having Flown and Children of the World being better examples than the disco-igniting Saturday Night Fever. While I’ve heard many of their singles that came from later releases, my musical interest was caught by the harder rock and heavy metal of the late 70s, and my collection of Bee Gees music was almost completely forgotten. Currently, the only music we have by the Bee Gees is the Very Best of the Bee Gees, but it's woefully inadequate for a longtime fan such as myself. I want to hear Country Lanes, In the Morning, Sea of Smiling Faces, and Odessa again, to mention just a few of the many songs I crave each time I play this disc. For those unfamiliar with older Bee Gees music, this discography has song lyrics, which will enable a bare glimmer of understanding of what I’m going on about. That’s really all that’s possible for a band whose recordings span pop, progressive-psychedelic pop, soul, rhythm and blues, country, and disco.

Highly repetitive music bores me, whether within one song or across an album, and I actively avoid it. Imagine my surprise – especially after dissing him to a friend – to find myself grooving to Moby’s Play and 18 during a daylong chocolatiering session. While Play is more upbeat overall than 18, both provided the right balance of catchy rhythms and light vocals to keep my energy boosted and my attention focused on my work rather than the lyrics. I’ll probably queue one or both up again when it comes time for spring housecleaning. His fusion of gospel and blues styles into techno music doesn’t always work for me, but when it does, it’s auditory gold, such as on Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? and Natural Blues, both on Play. From 18, tracks that caught my attention include We Are All Made of Stars, One of These Mornings, and the melancholy At Least We Tried.

Paradoxically, when my work wasn’t going well, it was the frenetic style of System of a Down that helped me push through. Imagine, if you can, Rush mashed with Dream Theater and Megadeth, with a bit of eastern European spice to keep things lively ... and that doesn’t give a full sense of the range of the band. Grungy and driving metal riffs share space with folkish melodies, and Serj Tankian’s versatile vocals either amplify the style or provide a quirky counterpoint. Either way, the music is complex and interesting, and often the lyrics are too. My favorite release that we have is Steal This Album!, which opens strongly with Chic ’N’ Stew; other tracks that commanded my attention include Boom! and F**k the System. Toxicity is also solid. Bounce is weirdly cool, the drum work opening Forest delights me, and Science is musically and lyrically engrossing. System of a Down is a band I had heard a fair amount about before I gave them a listen, and frankly, I wasn’t sure that I’d like them. While I don’t think they’ll ever join my list of regulars, their catchy quirkiness is hard to resist. And I don’t want to resist it.

Veering in a completely different direction, I also enjoy good, old-fashioned keyboard music. By that I primarily mean the electronic organ, that much-disparaged instrument common decades ago at roller rinks and baseball stadia. I adored it then, and while I like the varied sounds newer keyboard technology offers up, sometimes I just want to hear that rich ring again. Most often when I do, I queue up The Best of Three Dog Night, because it serves up great keyboards and much more. Their hits are part of the soundtrack of my youth, and include the only song I knew my father to regularly sing. Three highly competent singers gave variety to the band's lead vocals, as well as building strong harmonies; and the overall sound is a welcome return to an era when music wasn’t formulaic, corporatized schlock. Listening to 3 Dog Night is always a pick-me-up for me.

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