It’s 1994. My swollen belly swathed in bandages, I’m lying down watching the other kids on Hydes Ward B playing outside in the quad, while I’m indolent in bed, forbidden by the nurses to join the rest of my sickly brethren.
Dad comes in. It also happens to be my tenth birthday, and tucked under his arm is a little wrapped package, looking suspiciously like a cassette tape. I’m excited – yet soon hope that he doesn’t process the crestfallen look on my face as it dawns on me that my little surprise is in fact The Very Best of the Bee Gees.
He mumbles something about knowing that I wanted The Beach Boys’ tape (note: at the time I didn’t recall requesting this either, but that’s by the by), and my confusion dissipates as I realise Dad has made a genuinely dyslexic mistake.
Despite the slightly ‘forced’ way my relationship with this album started, the record soon became my little saviour in hospital; within hours, I would be eagerly flipping the tape once Side 2 had ended (the final song being that heavy 1980s foot-pumping stomper, You Win Again), in order to allow the understated classic New York Mining Disaster 1941 to lull me to sleep while the ward is dark, the nurses are rumbling around with their injection trolley, and ‘Bobby the Bleep,’ my IV, bleeps its way through the night.
I can still vividly recall the comfort that the burgundy-coloured font of the tracklist elicited during those long days. Indeed, I fell head-over-heels in love with them so hard and fast that in an early case of BBFF (best band fan forever), I threw my tape into the mix during a hospital exercise of writing to the Queen, casually enquiring if she was also a fan. Although she did send a very sweet reply back, sadly I never did find out if our Monarch was also, ‘More Than a Woman.’
Cut to a few years later, and the guilt of my prior pleasure is in full throttle. In the late 1990s, my sister and I chanced upon Feeder (whom in themselves have now perhaps become a guilty pleasure) doing a signing at Leeds Virgin Megastore, where we rashly decided to queue up for a humdrum couple of hours, eventually finding ourselves by the tape section.
“Didn’t YOU have that?” asks my parents’ monstrous first creation, pointing, pointing, and pointing yet again at that oh-so-wonderful silhouetted-front cover of The Very Best of the Bee Gees. I’m rapidly drowning in the whooziness of shame, catastrophically embarrassed in front of my peers and with nowhere to hide.
I swiftly descended into full-on strop mode, huffing and puffing around my enclosed space, a deep red seared in my cheeks as I became propelled by a murderously unhinged ‘how-could-you-have-done-that-to-me-in-front-of-all-these-cool-people’ rage of unadulterated hatred towards my womb-warmer. It later transpired that she had genuinely not inquired with the intention of whisking up a Grade-A spasm attack, but that truth only served to incriminate me further as a too-cool-for-skool music lover in my mid-teenage years. Frankly, in the present day I simply do not produce enough energy as a human being to get het-up every time I’m ‘caught out’ with a guilty pleasure. Indeed, as I type this in a public computer cluster, Kelly Clarkson’s Because of You is sweetly blasting its way out of my iPod earphones without a care in the world. But that’s growing up for you.
And so for the purpose of this episode of ‘Guilty as Charged’, I revisited The Very Best of the Bee Gees. If I’m completely honest, not all the songs sparkled as they did in my nostalgic memory-bank of 1994. But there are still ones that ‘get me’ right there: the simple yet haunting lyrics of New York Mining Disaster 1941, an early ‘sketchy’ song which clearly predates the more sophisticated sounds of their later years; the masterful Nights On Broadway, and First Of May, which heralds the start of a little run of beauties on this album, all tenderly rousing the ache of missing a loved one.
Certainly, the earlier songs are marked by a profound melancholy which belies the ‘cheesiness’ that stamps the Bee Gees in many of our minds today. Perhaps in order to fully appreciate this band, you need to delve beyond their defining disco hits. Although not too far, of course. This is the Very Best Of, after all.
words: Martina Booth