(Nick Logan, New Musical Express, August 10, 1968)
BEE GEES talking frankly about the hit that wasn’t
Round a conference table in the basement of the Robert Stigwood Organisation in Brook Street, Mayfair, a meeting was in progress. Members present: Colin Petersen, Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb. Apologies for absence were received from Vince Melouney.
On the agenda was the contention that the Bee Gees are at a critical phase in their career and the question – have their fans deserted them since the flop of ‘Jumbo’ and their recent British tour, which was not as warmly received as was expected? A question that has since been answered by the arrival of ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You’ in the NME Chart at No 21 this week.
Messrs Petersen, Gibb, Gibb and Gibb interrupted their campaign for the reconstruction of Great Britain – “we feel it is time for Nelson to be removed from his column. He must be freezing to death” to put their heads together in debate.
“This is no more critical than any other period,” said Barry confidently. “I think every period is critical”. And Colin added in support “Our career was critical when we went on stage at Bridlington”.
Robin entered the discussion with a reference to ‘Jumbo’, “I can only lay it down to one reason – not because it was the wrong choice of song, it wasn’t the wrong choice and could easily have been a hit. But (a) ‘Words’ was still in the Top thirty and (b) because we were releasing too many singles far too fast, which gets people confused.
“Take for instance, Manfred Mann. When ‘Mighty Quinn’ was no 1 they released ‘Up The Junction’ and nobody ever heard it. Yet their next single, ‘My Name Is Jack’, was an instant hit. You could have said that Manfred Mann was at a critical point, yet the one before ‘Quinn’ was a flop as well”.
Robin excused himself to answer one of the several phones placed at strategic points in the room and Colin took over. “You can put a record out and the timing can be put by a week or two weeks. If ‘Jumbo’ had been released three weeks later it could have been a smash”.
Robin was quickly back “say we had released ‘Jumbo’ now. Then it might have done better because people have not heard so much from us and the less you hear from a person, the more the interest grows and starts to build up again – we hope!”
Maurice mentioned Petula Clark who was still “right up there” even though she hadn’t had a hit recently, and Barry said that he was surprised there hadn’t been more nasty remarks when ‘Jumbo’ flopped.
“They passed it over as saying alright they’ve missed with a record but let’s not dismiss them too hastily. It knocked us out that a lot of people still had respect for us instead of jumping down our throats as soon as we had a flop record.
“And I think that is the most important thing, that we still have respect in the business and people are still waiting for the next record.
“Yeah! We only made Jumbo so the kids could feel sorry for us” joked Colin, which brought the retort from a “hurt” Maurice “Well I wish somebody had told me that!”
Phones started ringing from all points of the compass now and it was Maurice this time who left to take a call
Pushed into“Robert (the group’s manager), was pushed into releasing ‘Jumbo’ by the American market because they preferred it to the other side. We preferred the other side,” said Barry.
Colin thought lack of exposure was mainly to blame. “I don’t think ‘Jumbo’ died by itself. With exposure it could have been a bigger record”
Barry said he thought the single would have fared better if it had been turned over.
“If it had been flipped and played just the same it wouldn’t have been any bigger” said Colin “If a thing is not played you just can’t have a hit. I don’t think half the public were aware that we had a single out”.
Back to Barry “I think the other side would have been a hit because in Germany they turned it over and we got to No 2 with ‘Jumbo’ and No 4 with ;Singer Sang His Song’. It dropped after a while and then this week ‘Singer’ jumped back in on it’s own to six from nowhere.
“In Britain it was our type of song and it would have been much stronger. ‘Jumbo’ was not our kind of song and we were trying to do something that wasn’t us. The new one is us”
Colin agreed the new single, ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You’ was obviously more commercial but added he didn’t think ‘Jumbo’ had done them any harm.
“It hasn’t” said Barry “from the kids that we’ve spoken to … There are usually dozens of kids around our door and those kids haven’t faltered in any way. They haven’t sort of drifted away because we’ve had one record that hasn’t done well. They’re still there and they’re waiting for the new single.
“You see, people like the Beatles and other groups … It’s great for these people because they can’t miss. They have an established following and millions of fans who will automatically buy their record whether it’s good or bad, although the Beatles are always good”
“But it’s a bit more involved than that” said Colin “You see, the Beatles will put out a record which isn’t obviously commercial and takes a lot of plays. People feel obliged to play it and play it until it clicks.
“For other groups, us included, if a record isn’t obviously commercial at first they won’t play it again and again until it is commercial. And that is why the charts are full of obviously commercial songs”
And with Barry again “I think something’s changed in the past year as regards groups or any artists because you can have a flop record and still retain the popularity you had in the first place.
Popularity “Once you get to a certain popularity you can keep that even if you have a flop record. Because the kids now pick a group they like and then buy the song if they like it. If they don’t like it, it doesn’t mean they don’t like the group. Nowadays it’s the group they like more than the records.”
The Gibb brothers departed and I stayed on chatting with Colin for several minutes. On my arrival in Brook Street I had seen evidence of the fans Barry had said were still faithful to them and when I left, the group’s white Rolls was still parked in the roadway while Maurice, Robin and Barry obliged the surrounding autograph hunters.
The Bee Gees K can report, are not over worried about what the future may hold – and I don’t think they need to be.