When the Bee Gees are mentioned, I’m one of those rare folks who doesn’t think of the gold chains, falsettos, John Travolta or The Barry Gibb Talk Show. No, I immediately associate the Brothers Gibb with their immaculate orchestral pop of the late 1960s: “To Love Somebody,” “Massachusetts,” “I’ve Just Gotta Get a Message To You,” and particularly the entire “Odessa” album, maybe one of the most overlooked albums by a major artist in 1969.
We’ve seen sibling feuds in rock and roll over the years, most notably between the Davies Brothers, the Robinson Brothers, hell, even the Pointer Sisters! The Gibbs were not immune either; Robin Gibb left the Bee Gees in a huff when his incredible tune “Lamplight” was rejected for single release. And so began a very brief period where The Bee Gees were a two-man group of Barry on vocals and guitar, and Maurice on vocals and just about all the other instruments.
The only album this odd lineup would make was “Cucumber Castle,” which served as a companion to an incredibly odd film of the same name. I haven’t had the patience to sit through the whole thing, but the clips I’ve seen lead me to believe it’s in the “so bad it’s good” category. (Strangely, the film also includes rare performance footage from Blind Faith, but that’s a story for another day.)
It was never an album on my urgent list of things to explore, but I chanced upon a copy of the “Cucumber Castle” LP for cheap at a Portland vinyl shop last fall, and it was in quite good condition for the price. I must admit, I was surprised how good the album was, especially considering the personnel shakeup, middling reviews, and the fact that they were following up what was easily their finest artistic achievement in “Odessa.”
Yes, the sweeping strings, Mellotrons and harmonies are all here, but one track really made me raise an eyebrow, and that was “My Thing.” It’s a fairly slight track stacked up against the many gems in the Gibb Brothers’ catalog, but it’s very interesting to me for two reasons: It’s a complete one-man-band effort from Maurice, even including a rare lead vocal from the “Quiet Bee Gee,” and its resemblance to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Punky’s Dilemma” is uncanny, in a “Taurus”/”Stairway” sort of way. The track has a folky, jazzy swing to it that I can’t say I’ve heard in many other Bee Gees compositions.
All in all, not bad for an album whose gatefold art features Barry Gibb sitting on a throne, clutching a cucumber.