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Sep 08

THE BEE GEES – “Tragedy”

FT + Popular45 comments • 4,407 views

#434, 3rd March 1979

The Bee Gees at this point were surely the world’s biggest act: “Tragedy” sounds it, absurd explosion noises and all. It’s a disco epic to file alongside tracks like the Jackson’s “Can You Feel It” but also it’s pop at its most maximalist, a cousin to the largest productions of Steinman, Horn, Martins Max and George – or at the other end of the quality scale, the sickly pomp of a Be Here Now.

Pop on this Roman scale doesn’t seduce, it bludgeons, and you either feel the blow or duck it. For me “Tragedy” is impressive, dramatic, thoroughly enjoyable but not really as effective as the earlier Bee Gees disco tracks – it’s missing the glide of “Night Fever”, the swagger of “Staying Alive”, the paranoia of “You Should Be Dancing”, and replacing them with scale, which doesn’t always age so well. To be sure, somewhere in “Tragedy” there’s an astonishing song capturing a soul – and an era – in meltdown. But I have to stretch to feel it, it doesn’t come over for me naturally, except perhaps in the Gibbs’ panicky falsettos on the chorus, pitched close to unbearable. Though for all that, “Tragedy” has an undeniable decadent power.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    DJ Punctum on 12 Sep 2008 #

    Not looking before they cross the road? They must have been absolutely Batty!

  2. 27
    rosie on 12 Sep 2008 #

    Yes. They’re not artful enough to dodge the traffic

  3. 28
    DJ Punctum on 12 Sep 2008 #

    I’m sure one of the news items I saw about Hurricane Gustav spoke of following the river of death downstream.

  4. 29
    Mark G on 12 Sep 2008 #

    Well, consider all those BG singles that flopped, before the SatNavFiver…
    Pick the bones out of these..

    “Charade” · “Jive Talkin’” (1975) · “Nights on Broadway” (1975) · “Fanny (Be Tender with My Love) (1976) · You Should Be Dancing (1976) · Love So Right” (1976) · “Boogie Child” (1977) · “Edge of the Universe (Live)” (1977) ·

    So, there you have two hits proper, a couple that made the lower regions, and some flops. Now, how many of them would have been hits if they’d come after SNF? At least two…

  5. 30
    Mark G on 12 Sep 2008 #

    #28, or, is it a dream?

  6. 31
    DJ Punctum on 12 Sep 2008 #

    I’m waiting for Dale to play “Edge Of The Universe (Live)” as one of the exciting new releases we all went out and bought this week in 1977…

  7. 32
    Chris Brown on 17 Sep 2008 #

    As I think I’ve hinted before I have an – ahem – difficult relationship with falsetto vocals, and on this track in particular that seems to overpower every other element of the record. I’m not sure I ever even noticed all that production.

    Good point about that Feist record – it’s another example I had in mind of my preference for covers of Bee Gees songs over the originals. I’d say more but I see the sihouette of two big ears…

  8. 33
    Tom on 22 Oct 2008 #

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/7886103 – disco saves lives!

  9. 34
    thefatgit on 15 Dec 2009 #

    Not exactly sure what the problem is with the falsetto. I have tried to reboot this song in my mind with somebody like, oh Tom Waits or Nick Cave. Those lyrics take on a whole new perspective. But then on the other hand, coming from Cave or Waits, it could have been theatrical high camp.

    The song itself dressed in it’s spangly-shirted, bare-chested Gibbness, seems to me to be a perfect fit. An 8 for me.

  10. 35
    Brooksie on 13 Feb 2010 #

    @Mark G # 29:

    Yes, there’s no doubt that SNF popularised and consolidated The Bee Gee’s as an international act. It’s worth pointing out that if you transposed those hits to the US you get a very different chart story: Two # 1′s, a # 3, a # 8, two # 12′s and a # 26 (live). All predating SNF. The film may have cradled them internationally, but they were on a hit-making roll before it.

    @ Vinyscot # 21:

    ‘Too Much Heaven’ is a dirge? Ok, it isn’t ‘How Deep is Your Love’, but in my opinion it is a very good ballad. And ‘Tragedy’ was always going to hit the top (or near top) of the charts even without SNF. It has exactly what a big pop hit needs. They might not have been as consistent before SNF, but ‘Jive Talkin’ and ‘You Should be Dancin’ proved they could take a song high up the charts on hooks alone. And unlike those two, ‘Tragedy’ was a song that 12 year-old’s could immediately understand.

  11. 36
    swanstep on 14 Feb 2010 #

    Building on #35, Brooksie: If you check the charts you’ll find that both before and after SNF, Bee Gees were bigger elsewhere than they were in the UK. This is particularly obvious when you look at the coat-tails they afforded younger brother Andy: he was massive in the US (3 #1s etc.), and v. big down under, but barely charted in the UK. And, yeah, ‘Too much heaven’ is no dirge (def.= a somber song expressing mourning or grief: is that really what #21 wanted to say?). It’s soft and pretty to a fault if that’s not what you’re looking for tho’! Arguably taste in the UK never clicked with that side of the BGs: ‘How do you mend a broken heart?’ was a big hit almost everywhere in 1971, but did nothing in the UK. Andy Gibb’s last significant hit (which really does sound *exactly* like a BGs record), Our love (Don’t throw it all away) is another sublime soft ballad – the BGs really had a knack for this stuff.

  12. 37
    wichita lineman on 6 Jun 2011 #

    It felt an event single, but Tragedy wasn’t the first single from Spirits Having Flown – that was Too Much Heaven. Which, for the record, I reckon channels Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson through a Gibb filter. I find it spiritual in the same way I find many Beach Boys recordings spiritual, and it’s not a word I bandy about very often.

    Can I nominate the blackest Gibb lyric? Robin’s solo 45 One Million Years:

    “We wed, I knew she’d stay
    Then I passed away”

  13. 38
    Moarie on 3 Jun 2012 #

    This is absolutely visionary stuff, in that as devotee to house/dance music since 90s (don’t smirk), the chutzpah of wild abandon, the sweating off your daily grind-attached identities (viz. gender-nonspecific falsetto), I’m hearing a close uncle with a song outta 1979…when YMO, Kraftwerk and other electronic outfits worked within boundaries of “artistic taste & experimentation” but…not THIS!
    Pet Shop Boys’ Chris Lowe fanboys this song, and their “It’s A Sin” coming 8 years later, adopts a similar disco-hell-and-brimestone world bookended by explosions too!

    P.S. Barry’s falsetto absolutely has gone into abuse territory on some titles I can’t think of at the moment. Though, Tragedy is truly the most justified use for the intended shrill and berserk. The real mystery is what producer Arif Mardin was thinking, asking Barry to “scream in tune”. Was it some extra-intimate insight into vocal potential, or a balls-out (off?) gamble to rival Rockist screams/wails? (Did everyone on earth take Robert Plant seriously at first?)

  14. 39
    Jimmy the Swede on 23 Jul 2012 #

    I hope posters will forgive me from plonking a genuine tragic dampner here but we’ve just received the news that one of our colleagues at Gatwick Customs has been killed by a gunman in Afghanistan, having being seconded to a contractor out there. Dave Chamberlain was one of those larger than life bonkers characters and will be missed by us all. RIP, Riggy.

    Thanks.

  15. 40
    Erithian on 24 Jul 2012 #

    Dreadful news, my friend. RIP.

  16. 41
    Brendan on 25 Sep 2012 #

    Again I’m in agreement about the “Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices”, but this is still my favourite number 1 from the Hee Bee- er, I mean Bee Gees and, like everything else ***** did, the cover was, er, a tragedy (might as well get that gag in now before anyone else does). I give the original 7.

  17. 42
    wichita lineman on 26 Sep 2012 #

    “In a world of tears I slowly drown
    Going home
    I just can’t take it all alone
    I really should be holding you
    Holding you, loving you”

    I wouldn’t say it’s meaningless Brendan, even if the production’s a little overwrought. The Bee Gees were never meaningless.

  18. 43
    Brendan on 26 Sep 2012 #

    I was referring to the title of the song by the parody band Hee Bee Gee Bees (Angus Daeyton et al) to refer to the point that most were making that they were overusing the falsetto voices by this time – like I said I do like this one.

  19. 44
    punctum on 24 Oct 2012 #

    TPL on the rather troubling parent album.

  20. 45
    hectorthebat on 2 Aug 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)

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