The Bee Gees: “Lonely Days”
Among the group of records that I first discovered in my parents’ collection at the age of 6 or so was 2 Years On, by the Bee Gees — and being released in the early days of 1971, this was still a number of years before the disco-fied Bee Gees. (That portion of their career didn’t begin until 1975, with the release of Main Course, which featured “Jive Talkin’.”) At this point, the Bee Gees were still very much in Beatles-influenced mode, as they had been throughout the beginning of their career in the late ’60s. As it happens, 2 Years On was something of a reunion album, the group having struggled through some issues that caused them to break up for a short time in 1969. The album stood out to me initially because of its very stark album design — not far removed, in retrospect, from the Beatles’ White Album (although I didn’t know that at the time, because my parents didn’t have that album). And once I listened to 2 Years On, I quickly grew to love a number of songs on the album, probably because of the Beatles similarity — as I think I’ve mentioned in past posts, I was pretty obsessed with the Beatles already by the time I was 6.
The song that was the biggest hit from the album (#3 on the American charts) was also my favorite: “Lonely Days.” Listening to it now, it’s evident that the Bee Gees had been spending a lot of time listening to Abbey Road, which came out right around the time the Bee Gees were probably starting to write and record this album. The song seems particularly influenced by the mini pop opera of Abbey Road‘s Side 2, seeming like some sort of concoction made up of equal parts “Sun King,” “Polythene Pam,” and “Carry That Weight.” In fact, “Lonely Days” really seems like two songs stitched together in much the same way as Abbey Road‘s Side 2: the beautifully sung verse, with symphonic accompaniment and all the Brothers Gibb harmonizing (the “Sun King” portion), and then the completely different chorus, where Barry comes slamming in, belting it out with all the soul he can muster (the “Carry That Weight” portion). It’s not the smoothest transition between the two sections, but it works.
Even the lyrics seem like they’re from “Sun King”:
Good morning mister sunshine, you brighten up my day.
Come sit beside me in your way.
I see you every morning, outside the restaurants,
The music plays so nonchalant.
Those, by the way — if you just add in the chorus of, “Lonely days, lonely nights/Where would I be without my woman?” — are the entire set of lyrics. So they’re not the deepest lyrics, but the Bee Gees sing them with conviction, which is half the battle. The final Barry section, which fades out with him in full-on Otis Redding mode (or is it “Oh Darling!”/Paul McCartney mode?), caps the song off triumphantly, with slamming piano chords, blaring horns, swirling strings, and stomping handclaps (seems like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?). It’s a short and potent song, even if it does seem derivative. But being derivative alone does not prevent a song from being great…and I have to admit I still love this one.