Paulelmo's Blog

The Bee Gees “Spirits Having Flown”(1979)–a Wednesday review

Every word you are about to read is true.

The Tuesday review has officially been demoted, paperwork forthcoming no doubt. So, now it’s the Wednesday Review; it may become the Weekend review.

 

“Why do you call it the Weekend review?”

“Because it comes out on either Tuesday or Wednesday.”

 

I head to work on Mondays and I’m all up in the air giddy because it’s my Friday, and Aunt Gertie has to remind me to bring it back down a bit, since it’s still Monday for the rest of the world. I tell her I don’t care too much about that…but I remain mindful of it anyway.

One might wonder how a guy who worries about coming off as soft for admitting an affinity for Hall and Oates would ever even consider writing about the Bee Gees, but here we are.

The band’s 1979 album, Spirits Having Flown, has a special place in my heart and in the heart of our family. Like I’ve stated (“Destined to Pick up Pen” and the two posts about a “bold mother” are three posts that go into more detail about our musical lives in our formative years) I had three older sisters and an older brother, and they, plus my mother and my father, all shaped my early musical life. Everyone brought something different to the table.

My father, a Baptist minister, brought the church music and he’d sometimes sing songs from a stack of 78 rpm records his mother had, songs like “Wait’s What Broke the Wagon Down” by Orville Cauch. My mother brought the gospel too, but she also gave us country, folk, golden oldie, and even some classic rock; the Beatles, Jim Croce, The Statler Brothers, and The Mills Brothers were all gifts from my mother.

My oldest sister, Cheryl, followed Mother from the country to folk vein, adding the likes of Donna Fargo, Anne Murray, Simon and Garfunkel, John Denver, and James Taylor. Steve, my older brother, came with the rock, and I ate it up. He introduced me to Styx, Kansas, Rush, Zeppelin, Genesis, Alan Parsons, and so many other performers and acts that I was going to need. Cara, my middle sister was into a bit of all of it, but the thing she brought to the table that nobody else did was the straight up pop hits type of music. Hall and Oates and Ambrosia were too biggies for her. My youngest sister, Darla–who is a year and a half older than me–brought the dance music, and, if you know anything about Darla, you know that when she brings something, she brings it all. I spent my high school years in a room just down the hall from Darla’s, and I never thought I’d look back fondly on all the Dazz Band, SOS Band, DeBarge; Lisa Lisa with Cult Jam and Full Force, for goodness’ sake. I brought the KISS, and then I brought the hair metal. I know, I know; you’re welcome.

I would be rude if I mentioned the whole family and not Tim, my only younger sibling. Tim is ten years younger than me, and even if he had been big into music, I don’t think he would have piqued my interest because he was just a little kid…and I knew everything. Tim was more into wrestling and video games, which might in part be because one of the only two albums I ever recall him owning was Please, Hammer, Don’t Hurt ’em. I’d tell you the name of the artist whose music was on that other cassette tape, but then he’d be all, “Now why’ya gotta go an’ do that?”

And in 1979, Steve brought home an album that would grow to be an album loved by all of us, the Bee Gees’ Spirits Having Flown.

This album holds a special place for me for many reasons. First, it was played a lot at the house, and I learned the good of its track list–all the songs aren’t that. Second, I recall Coach Phillips playing it while he drove Bob Moore, Dwight Baker, Ronnie Auxier, and I–four boys who comprised perhaps the worst 4×800 relay team in history–to a track meet on the day President Reagan was shot.

 

“For the love of God, man, the President has been shot; what do we do?”

“Only a couple things that I think might help; put on some disco, and run slower than other people.”

 

The third reason the album made a deep impression on me was because on the first day of sixth grade a new girl came to our school, and I fell absolutely head over heals in love with her. We even “went together” for a while, the highlight of that relationship being the eighth grade dance, when we danced to “Too Much Heaven.” That was sometime after I ticked her off one day, causing her to dig her thumb nail into the side of my thumb, at the knuckle and leave a scar that’s still there today. The new girl moved not long after that dance, and I would never see her again.

Time, place, and context being what they are, however, you don’t have any of that. You only have these ten songs. And what of them?

Spirits Having Flown is the Bee Gees’ 15th studio album, and they had shed a lot of their more thoughtful introspection–from the periods when all  would sing lead on certain parts–and had become a straight up disco act with Barry’s falsetto leading the almost throughout. (He sings lead on nine songs and shares the duties with Robin on the tenth.)

There are three categories of song here. There are the hits, “Tragedy,” “Too Much Heaven,” and “Love You Inside Out”; if you’re interested enough to be reading this, you probably know those. Then you have the soft stuff, the love ballads: “Reaching Out,” “Stop (Think Again),” “I’m Satisfied,” “Until,” and the title track, which is one of those things out there in the world that reminds us that not every idea is a good one. None of these songs really stand out.

And then you have the gems. The last two songs are the album tracks that really make this a collection worth listening to. I mean, you know the hits, and none of the softer stuff is all that good, so it leaves those last two tracts to give the album viability for a first time listener. “Search, Find” and “Living Together” do just that.

Together with “Love You Inside Out,” these songs serve to give the album it’s vibe. This is where the funk is, where guys sit back there in the pocket and make us wonder where they found out this thing they know, that we don’t. They are the best reasons to listen to this 38 year-old relic.

But, you know as well as I that Barry’s voice is an acquired voice, and I certainly hope that, if you haven’t acquired it, you stopped wasting your time on this piece much earlier than this.

But it is all time, place, context, isn’t it? Think about this, aside from it being a slightly better song than the other ballads on the album, the only real reason I don’t just lump “Too Much Heaven” in with the rest was that I had that dance with the new girl back in eighth grade. It is really not much better of a song than any of them, yet, for me, it will always hold a special place, while the rest of them are kind of just annoying.

And I look down at this crescent shaped scar on my thumb, which has now been there almost four decades, and I think of how the girl who put it there turned into a woman who got married and had four daughters before she died of cancer at 28. And I’m reminded once more of something that always helps me deal with my expectations of life, that, no matter what goes down, no matter what happens in life, in the passage of time, things seldom turn out as we imagined they would.

So, you can call me soft if you want, but I know where the vibey tracks are.

Thanks for reading, dear friends, and say a small prayer for all the motherless children.

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