5 Day Advent of Songs – Day 2 Bee Gees

bee gees36

First of May (B R&M Gibb) – Bee Gees 1969

The most famous band of siblings in popular music had broken up in 1969, the final straw for Robin Gibb had been the decision by Barry, supported by their manager Robert Stigwood, to make First of May, a Barry Gibb solo vocal, the lead single off the album Odessa, over the competing claims of Robin’s Lamplight. The Bee Gees L-R Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Vince Melouney, Maurice Gibb, Colin Petersen.

Bee Gees 1

The brothers were exhausted and fractious, Odessa lacked the usual sure-footed verve and spontaneity of their previous hits, it was a double album with an opulent red flock cover and gold lettering, intricate string, and orchestral arrangements, dense lyrics and opaque metaphors, a concept album that was poorly conceived, there wasn’t an obvious single, it was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

bee gees 34

Eight songs into the recording of Odessa guitarist Vince Melouney departed, First of May was released in March 1969, Barry’s solo vocals were impressive, the song had a beguiling nursery rhyme quality to it, and overly sentimental strings, but with a gorgeous melody, and it became a seasonal Christmas favourite with the lyrics “when I was small and Christmas trees were tall…” as  two childhood friends reflect on their innocent love and the day that they parted “Don’t ask me why but time has passed us by/Someone else moved in from far away…”


 It seems likely that Barry was lamenting the looming schism within the group, and the estrangement of the brothers, as he fervently declared their “love will never die”, but the poignant vocals-only fade-out to the song invited speculation, and left some to ponder the future of the brothers Gibb.

bee gees35

Despite Robin’s protests that Stigwood had assured him that Lamplight would be the album’s lead single, ahead of Barry’s First of May, and cover artwork (above) seems to support that decision, it was not to be.  Lamplight was by comparison ponderous, with hymnal harmonies, stop-start guitars, and the absence of an engaging hook upon which to hang Robin’s soaring vocals, there was in fact a stronger case to be made for Robin to have performed lead vocals on First of May, instead of Barry (below).

bee gees46

Never the less First of May was only a moderate hit in Australia (#13) and the US (#37) but did better in the UK at #6, the album Odessa underperformed given the Gibbs previous successes, #20 in USA, #10 in UK, and #13 in Aust, but has been re-evaluated more favourably in recent years, but First of May remains a delightfully unexpected Bee Gees Christmas classic.

Barry is the sole focus of the video, Robin is sitting in shadows and physically mentally detached from the group, he would depart the Bee Gees soon after, and perform solo for 18 months.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s