Monday, March 5, 2012

Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and ... The Bee Gees?

By 1979, the Bee Gees had become so overexposed, and had become so synonymous with the rapidly fading and soon-to-be-reviled disco movement, even they knew it. They realized that they couldn't even release songs under their own name. So the Brothers Gibb went into stealth mode.

First, there was Barbra Streisand's "Woman In Love":

Then there was Dionne Warwick's "Heartbreaker":

But their most impressive feat of all may have been Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's "Islands In The Stream."

The Bee Gees go country? Surely you jest. Ah, but upon closer inspection, this stylistic shift is not so ludicrous. Take a good listen to "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart," or especially "Don't Forget To Remember" (an obscurity in the U.S., but a big hit in England in 1969). Let this be a lesson to you: the Bee Gees can do anything.

I remember listening to this song while it was playing on the '80s Tape in my family's car, and I used to think the lyrics were "Islands In The Street." You know, like those little concrete divides with bushes in them that separate the traffic lanes? Kind of a strange metaphor to symbolize the strength of their love, but who was I to judge?

I can't put my finger on it, but it's funny how all these songs, despite having been sung by others, still sound like "Bee Gees songs." If I were a songwriter, I could tell you why. Maybe the Brothers Gibb just have a fondness for certain kinds of chord changes and harmonic tricks. What's also funny is that, despite the early '80s public derision of the Bee Gees, all these songs were huge hits. Basically, people still wanted to listen to the Bee Gees; they just didn't want to "listen to the Bee Gees." Sometimes, image is everything.

But you see, the Bee Gees were so amazing, they could write hits for artists years into the future. In 1998, "Islands In The Stream" found new life as "Ghetto Superstar (That Is What You Are)," a solo hit by Pras (featuring Mya, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and the production assistance of fellow Fugee Wyclef). By this time, it was OK, or even encouraged, to like disco again. It's safe Bee Gees! You can come out now!

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