Honestly, the inspirations behind my books never really make sense at first. My First Half (the 1st in the Cate & Kian series) came about because I’ve been a huge Manchester United fan ever since I was dragged to my first match aged 11 and my favourite book of all-time is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I was inspired to write Tragic Pixie Girl after getting back into watching Formula 1 motor racing and tumbling down the rabbit hole of elaborate sugar art after spending my evenings watching baking shows on TV.
My next book, Poppy & The Gents (due out on 26 May) is definitely no exception because it was inspired by a trip I took to London where I got to visit the amazing graffiti tunnel at Leake Street (near Waterloo Station) and thanks to my mum, I was also listening to a lot of the Bee Gees at the time.
ICYDK The Bee Gees were a hugely successful music group comprised of three brothers: Barry (1946+), Robin (1949-2012) and Maurice (1949-2003) Gibb. If you want to know more about them, there’s a great documentary titled The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (2020) which is available now.
The MC in Poppy & The Gents, Poppy and her teenage sister, Thea have inherited a love of the Bee Gees’ earlier songs from their maternal grandmother, Evelyn.
So please find below my list of 10 Evelyn-approved Bee Gees songs, including behind the scenes info, weird and wonderful cover versions and a little bit of my own personal history mixed in there as well.
(01) New York Mining Disaster 1941 (1967)
During a power cut at Polydor Records, Barry & Robin wrote the song while sitting in a darkened staircase. It’s written from the perspective of a miner trapped in a cave, talking about his wife while he waits hopelessly to be rescued.
It was inspired by the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip in Aberfan on 21 October 1966, which killed 116 children and 28 adults.
Fuelled by the fact the record referred to NEMS Enterprises (which was the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein’s agency because the Bee Gees’ manager, Robert Stigwood (16 April 1934 to 4 January 2016) had merged his agency with NEMS), rumours spread that the Bee Gees were just a pseudonym for the Beatles (with the name referring to the initials of the Beatles Group).
The Bee Gees’ record company encouraged this speculation by distributing promos of New York Mining Disaster 1941 with a blank label and suggesting it was by an English group starting with the letter B and ending with the letter S. Radio DJs played it repeatedly thinking it was by the Beatles and so it became a hit for the Bee Gees.
Several years after it was released, George Harrison of the Beatles told Maurice that he’d actually bought a copy of the record because it sounded so much like them.
One of the most surprising cover versions of a Bee Gees’ song is this minimalist version by English anarchic-communist rock band, Chumbawamba (best known for the song, Tubthumping).
(02) To Love Somebody (1967)
To Love Somebody was written by Barry and Robin at the request of their manager, Robert Stigwood, for Otis Redding (9 September 1941 to 10 December 1967).
Unfortunately Otis would never get the chance to record the soulful ballad. The legendary American singer-songwriter died (along with five others) when the Beechcraft H18 plane he was travelling in crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin.
One of Otis’ best known songs, (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay co-written with Steve Cropper was recorded on 22 November 1967 with additional overdubs on 7 December 1967 (three days before Otis’ untimely death). It was released on 8 January 1968 and became the 1st posthumous single to reach #1 in the US. The album, The Dock of the Bay (released on 23 February 1968) was the 1st posthumous album to reach #1 in the UK Albums Chart.
In 2017, Barry told Piers Morgan’s Life Stories that of all the songs he’d ever written, he would choose To Love Somebody because of the “clear, emotional message”.
(03) Massachusetts (1967)
Massachusetts was originally written by the Gibbs for Australian folk quarter, The Seekers but after they were unsuccessful in getting the song to the group, they decided to record it themselves. Years later, Judith Durham (lead singer of The Seekers) learned during a chance meeting in London with Maurice that the song had been intended for them. The Seekers performed Massachusetts on tour in Australia in 2003 as a tribute to Maurice after his untimely death (on 12 January 2003) and it was so popular they decided to finally record it.
Massachusetts was the 1st of the group’s 5 x #1 hits in the UK Singles Chart. It went to #1 on 11 October 1967 and stayed there for 4 weeks. However, it was a bittersweet time for Robin during this period because on 5 November 1967, he and his wife-to-be, Molly Hullis were passengers on the Sunday evening train service from Hastings to London Charing Cross, which derailed between Hither Green and Grove Park. Robin and Molly escaped uninjured but 49 of their fellow passengers were killed and 78 were injured (Daily Mail).
On a lighter note, Massachusetts was also the 2nd record ever played on BBC Radio 1 here in the UK (after “Flowers in the Rain” by The Move).
(04) Words (1968)
According to Robin, Words was written after both he and Barry got into separate arguments and ended up in the same mood. The arguments weren’t about anything substantial; they were just words and so the song reflects the idea that words have the capacity to make you happy or sad.
A cover version of Words was the 1st single from Irish boy-band, Boyzone’s 2nd album, A Different Beat and became their first #1 single in the UK.
(05) I Started A Joke (1968)
I Started A Joke took inspiration from a very unlikely source. In an interview, Robin said it was inspired by the sound a British Airways Vickers Viscount (turbo-prop airliner) made about 100 miles outside of Essen, Germany. The drone of the four engines began to mysteriously sound like a church choir.
It’s a beautiful song made all the more poignant by this quote from Robin’s son, Robin-John Gibb about what he did just minutes after Robin tragically passed away on 20 May 2012 (aged just 62). “One of my favorite Bee Gee songs, ‘I Started A Joke,’ has the line: ‘I finally died, which started the whole world living’ and I played it on my phone, put it on Dad’s chest and we sat together. I’d tried to hold it all in until then but that’s when I bawled like a baby” (Today).
Another unlikely cover of a Bee Gees song is by the American rock band, Faith No More. It was the final single released before the group disbanded in 1998 (although they subsequently reformed in 2009). The video features none of the band members. The song is performed as karaoke by drag artist, David Hoyle and the audience includes Martin Freeman.
During an interview with The Guardian, Billy Gould explained that the group decided to cover I Started A Joke after they ended up in a military bar during a night off in Guam and heard it playing on the karaoke machine there.
(06) I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You (1968)
This song was the group’s 2nd UK #1 and their first Top 10 hit in the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.
It’s written from the perspective of a prisoner on death row, awaiting execution (for the murder of his wife’s lover) in the electric chair, who begs the prison chaplain to pass on a final message to his wife.
The song was originally intended for Percy Sledge (25 November 1940 to 14 April 2015), who is best known for the song, When A Man Loves A Woman. Percy eventually recorded it in February 1970.
Of course, no list can be complete without a foreign language version so below I’ve also included Pensiero D’Amore by Mal Ryder.
(07) How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (1971)
The Gibbs wrote How Can You Mend a Broken Heart in August 1970 after they’d got back together following the break-up and alienation after Robin’s decision to quit the band in March 1969.
As with so many of their songs, it was originally offered to another artist, in this case Andy Williams (3 December 1927 to 25 September 2012) but the Bee Gees ended up recording it themselves.
It was the group’s 1st #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
I’ve got to admit I probably heard Al Green’s 1972 cover version before I ever heard the Bee Gees’ original because it featured on the soundtracks of Good Will Hunting (1997), The Virgin Suicides (1999) and Notting Hill (1999).
(08) Run to Me (1972)
Yet another unlikely cover version of a Bee Gees song is by former professional boxer, Oscar De La Hoya. Oscar won gold in the lightweight division of the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and from 1992-2008 he won 11 x world titles in 6 x weight classes.
In 2000, his self-titled album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album. The album included English and Spanish language versions of Run to Me. I’ve included the Spanish version (Ven A Mi) below:
(09) Jive Talkin’ (1975)
The rhythm was inspired by the sound their car made crossing from Biscayne Bay to the Criteria Studios in Miami on the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
The title originally referred to the dance and so the lyric was, “you dance with your eyes.” After their producer, Arif Mardin explained that in the black community, “jive talkin’” means talking b-s so the lyric was changed to “you’re telling me lies.”
When it was released to radio stations, the record company employed the same tactic that had been used to build hype for New York Mining Disaster 1941 and delivered it in a plain, white cover with no indication of the song’s name or artist. The only way for the DJ to find out the details was to put it on the turntable.
I’d never heard of this next cover version by Boogie Box High (a musical project headed by Andros Georgiou) until I started researching this post. I’d only heard of Andros before because his son, James Kennedy stars in one of my favourite reality TV shows, Vanderpump Rules. Boogie Box High features Nick Heyward (Haircut 100) on guitar, Mick Talbot (Style Council) on keyboards and most impressively, George Michael (Andros’ 2nd cousin) on lead vocals (although he wasn’t credited on the original release because of contractual obligations to Epic Records).
(10) How Deep Is Your Love (1977)
As much as I love the Bee Gees, this song will always make me think of Take That. It was the last single released (and the final UK #1) by the group before they split up in 1996. I didn’t call the special helplines set up to counsel distraught fans after the group announced they were splitting up but I was a teenage girl at the time so I definitely remember where I was when I first found out.
Thankfully Take That got back together in 2006 and in 2018 they released Odyssey, which featured a new version of How Deep Is Your Love featuring the group and Barry Gibb.