What a Ride

A couple of weeks ago I got an e-mail from my Internet pal bean, who was listening to a vintage American Top 40 broadcast from 1978 that started with Rare Earth’s “Warm Ride,” written for them by the Bee Gees. He suggested that there might be a blog post in Barry Gibb songs written for other people, and mentioned Andy Gibb, Dionne Warwick, and Yvonne Elliman. Just off the top of my head I’d add Barbra Streisand, Olivia Newton-John, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton, but a quick spin through the listings at Allmusic.com shows a lot more.

Here’s just a fraction of the total: the Animals (“To Love Somebody,” which may be the most covered Gibb song of all, with versions ranging from Janis Joplin to Gary Puckett and the Union Gap to Gram Parsons to Joe Strummer to Hank Williams Jr.), Destiny’s Child (“Emotion”), Faith No More (“I Started a Joke”), Al Green (“How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”), Wayne Newton (“Run to Me”), Roy Orbison (“Words,” also done by many others, including Elvis Presley), Ozzy Osbourne (“Stayin’ Alive”), Diana Ross (several), Nina Simone (also several), Status Quo (“Spicks and Specks”), Swamp Dogg (“I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You”), the Temptations (“How Deep Is Your Love”), and Conway Twitty (“Rest Your Love on Me”). So when we’re listing the most prolific and successful songwriters of the 20th century, we’d better put Barry Gibb, by himself and in various combinations with his brothers, on that list.

As odd as it seems that rockin’ Rare Earth might have done a Bee Gees song, back in 1978 it wasn’t so strange, because the Bee Gees were it that spring. They wrote hit songs, produced ’em, performed ’em, and, one presumes, had their royalties delivered to ’em in semi-trailers. Even at a distance of 32 years, the statistics are astounding to behold:

—During the 21 weeks between late December 1977 and mid-May 1978, the Bee Gees or their offshoots (Andy Gibb and Yvonne Elliman, who recorded their “If I Can’t Have You”) occupied the Number-One slot on the Hot 100 for 19 weeks. The only record to interrupt their run was Player’s “Baby Come Back,” which was on the Bee Gees’ record label, RSO.

—During the week of March 18, 1978, they held four of the top five positions (“Night Fever,” “Stayin’ Alive,” Andy Gibb’s “Love Is Thicker Than Water,” and “Emotion” by Samantha Sang). Only Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” could stem the tide—and it, too was on RSO.

—The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack occupied the top slot on the album chart from the end of January through early July, while the film played on in theaters.

—During the June week when “Warm Ride” hit the Top 40, Andy Gibb’s “Shadow Dancing” hit Number One, and the new title song from Grease, also written by Barry Gibb, debuted in the Top 40. Those two singles would keep the Gibb flag flying through the late summer and fall before the release of the Bee Gees’ next single, “Too Much Heaven,” late in the year.

“Warm Ride,” which only got up to Number 39, isn’t much like Rare Earth of the early 70s, and if you can’t stop thinking about “I Just Want to Celebrate” or “Get Ready,” you’ll probably find it quite odd. (I wish I could find some information about how they came to record it.) Its two-week ride in the Top 40, during the weeks of June 17 and June 24, 1978, is an appropriate marker for the moment at which the Bee Gees achieved maximum cultural reach, when anything they touched was likely to turn to something approximating gold.

Coming Next Time: More vintage American Top 40.