Bee Gees: 1st

Bee Gees
1st
(ATCO)

The context: From the time they were very young, brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb sang together in public, performing in talent shows and at local movie theaters between screenings. Four years after moving from their native Manchester, England to Australia, they had a recording contract. Barry was already a seasoned songwriter who had turned out original compositions from the time he was a tween. The Australia-only album Bee Gees Sing And Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs came in 1965, and the group scored its first hit, "Spicks And Specks," the following year. But by then, the brothers Gibb were already on their way back to England to be part of the country's exploding rock scene, under the tutelage of manager-producer Robert Stigwood, who oversaw the group's international debut, 1st.

The greatness: If there's a case to be made for brilliant craftsmanship compensating for a lack of originality in pop music, 1st is Exhibit A. Just as they would brazenly lift from soul, funk, and disco artists to create some of the most commercially successful pop music of the '70s, the Bee Gees borrowed heavily from the best of mid-'60s British pop-rock on 1st, aping Revolver-era Beatles, the soaring harmonies of The Hollies, and the baroque flourishes of The Zombies and The Walker Brothers. But while the album's catchy psych-pop sound was trendy, the songs the brothers wrote were timeless. "New York Mining Disaster 1941" and "I Can't See Nobody" soon became AM radio staples, and "To Love Somebody" is the earliest (and perhaps best) example of the gushingly emotive ballads the Bee Gees wrote and performed throughout their many guises. They weren't visionaries, but with 1st, they showed they could produce songs as good or better than their influences.

Defining song: There are several memorable hits on 1st, but perhaps the album's most gorgeous song is also its most blatant Beatles rip-off, "Please Read Me." Sounding remarkably like John Lennon, Barry Gibb rides a lazy, druggy groove before Robin and Maurice join him on the loveliest Beatles-esque chorus ever not written by The Beatles.