David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 65: The Bee Gees (Nights On Broadway)

June 30, 2020

Before Saturday Night Fever, I was on the fence about The Bee Gees.  In 1975, when Main Course came out, and before I had any sense that disco was something to explode (even in the middle of Comiskey Park) or to dislike, I found the singles off of Main Course very titillating. I don't use that phrase loosely, because as a 13-year old boy, there was a lot going on within me for which I was still rather clueless. "Jive Talkin," "Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)," and especially "Nights on Broadway" all awoke something in me.  Maybe it was the falsetto voices. Who can explain puberty?

But then Saturday Night Fever hit, and I quickly hated everything about it (well, everything but "Disco Inferno," but that may be for another day). I hated the image of John Travolta strutting down the street to "Night Fever," the way Travolta treats the Donna Pescow character, all the discotheque scenes, and mostly the pretty boys (well, maybe not Robin) Bee Gees.  As a result, like a typical teenager, I shut The Bee Gees down and ignored them for years.

Eventually, I came back, snobbery out the door with my punk tuxedo jacket. I returned to Main Course to enjoy the servings, especially "Nights On Broadway." In fact, when I listen closely to "Nights on Broadway," I hear it is a draft, maybe even better, for "Night Fever," or at least for how that song features in the movie.

With the syncopated bass, the electric piano, the perfect example of scratching guitar, the sound popularized by so many disco acts, musically the song is ten times more interesting than "Night Fever," with a lovely bridge that completely changes the tempo. Lyrically, the song fits better for that opening shot of Travolta walking down New York Streets: "here we are in a room full of strangers/standing in the dark/where your eyes couldn't see me//well, I had to follow you/even though you did not want me to." My oh my, that's dark. There's not a line halfway interesting as these in all of the Bee Gees' songs from Saturday Night Fever.

Of course, the joy of "Nights On Broadway" is the smorgasbord of remarkable vocal stylistics. They start with Barry Gibb's pronounced, baritone "Heeeeeeeeeeere we are/in a room full of strangers," the last word vibrating with the thrill of an added Robin Gibb vibrato, transitioning to him for the pre-chorus: "Well, I had to follow you/though you did not want me to," setting up the trio belting out the chorus, "blaming it on/on the nights of broadway," the falsetto rising through each successive chorus. Simple structure repeated, one voice (Barry), second voice (Robin), all three voices.

Then there is that beautiful bridge, the d.j. changing the fast dance to slow, "I will wait even if it takes forever/I will wait even if it takes a lifetime," turning (as most pop songs try to do) obsession into devotion. When the song bursts back to the infectious chorus, the brothers' voices layer over and over again, with that damn falsetto slipping in and out, half wail, half scream. Devotion giving way to obsession again.

The responsible voice for the falsetto?  When I was a teenager, I was convinced it was Robin. After all, he was the most effeminate looking one, so shouldn't he have the highest voice (forgive me, I was pretty ignorant as a teenager)?  Look online now, and you will find dozens of references that say it was Barry, spurned on by the producer, Arif Mardin, to "scream in tune."  However, find a live performance (truly live, not lip synched) and you will see it is Maurice with the falsetto.  Quiet, least noticeable Maurice. The cool Maurice. The one guy who didn't seem too pretty or too freakish and might represent the multitude of us who knew we weren't the former and trying desperately not to be the latter.

One thing's for sure: all these mixed-up feelings I had (maybe still have) about the Bee Gees?  I am blaming it on my youth.

"Nights On Broadway." Main Course. The Bee Gees. RSO. 1975. Link here

Day 64: The Specials "Nite Klub."

Day 66: Anathema "Internal Landscapes."

See complete list here.