Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Classic Song Chronicles: "To Love Somebody" (Barry and Robin Gibb)
Originally written for soul great Otis Redding, who was tragically killed in a plane crash before recording it, at the request of their ambitious manager Robert Stigwood, “To Love Somebody” is one of the great songs of the sixties and one of the most important tracks the legendary Bee Gees ever delivered.
With the hopes of Redding recording it destroyed, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb recorded the Barry and Robin penned track themselves in 1967 for their historic third LP, Bee Gees 1st. The song, one of the album’s most majestic, would become The Bee Gees second single taken from the influential LP and would turn out to be a solid if not massive hit. Peaking just inside the Top Twenty in The United States and barely scratching the Top Forty in Britain, the song’s impact didn't begin to really be felt until 1969 when both Nina Simone and Janis Joplin recorded stunning versions of it.
Barry Gibb, recalling the writing of the magnificent track in the liner notes Rhino’s great 2006 reissue of Bee Gees’ 1st, stated “I wrote that in New York, and I think the last verse I finished with Robin in London after that". Barry also noted that he had in fact met Otis Redding the night the song was written, and it was that meeting that gave Stigwood the notion of the Bee Gees giving the song to the legendary soul Stax soul singer.
Covered literally hundreds of times by artists ranging from Rod Stewart to The Flying Burrito Brothers to Damien Rice (seen above) to Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins (seen below), "To Love Somebody" is one of the earliest examples of The Bee Gees absolute mastery of their songwriting craft. Working as both a soaring love song and a devastating lament for a lost love, "To Love Somebody" remains one of the Bee Gees most powerful compositions, and acts as one of the earliest chapters in what was soon to become one of the most successful and legendary songwriting teams in all of popular music.
While the Bee Gees original studio-take is a work of perfection, it can be argued that a couple of the later cover versions are even more accomplished. Nina Simone’s bruising and beautiful take from 69 especially adds further dimensions to the song, as does Joplin’s searing version of the song from the same year. Favorite version arguments aside, "To Love Somebody" is at the end of the day one of the essential Bee Gees songs.
While history often attempts to push the band into a separate corner from their peers, the wide ranging artists that have covered "To Love Somebody" show the Bee Gees as being very much at the head of the vanguard of the greatest sixties rock musicians. The fact that their own recordings remain so immaculate and individualistic make them all the more transcendent, important and inspiring.