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As for both Davison and Palao's contention that those early Bee Gees' records bear some resemblance to Beatles songs from the same time, Gibb pleads guilty. "We were so into the Beatles, and still are," he says. "They were the greatest influence we've ever had. We would say, 'Wonder what the Beatles' next record will be?' And then we would pretend we were the Beatles, write the song, and then record it. 'Exit Stage Right' was our sort of 'Paperback Writer.' And 'Lemons Never Forget' was our sendup of [the Beatles' record label] Apple. We would imagine what they would write, and that's how we came up with some of these titles" (like, for example, "The Earnest of Being George," performed by Spindle on Melody Fair). And, in a somewhat elliptical turn, Gibb says that when he and his brothers first heard the tribute, "We thought it was very Beatlesish."
Jud Cost, who contributed wry song-by-song notes to the album, heard Beatles riffs in Bee Gees songs, too. "To tell the truth, I'm not a huge Bee Gees fan, at least not until I got into this [Melody Fair]," confesses Cost, speaking over the phone from his home in Santa Clara. "I was such a Beatles fan when I grew up that I thought, 'These guys [Bee Gees] are mock-Beatles.' You know, that first thing they did A 'Welsh Mining Disaster,' or whatever the hell it was called, was an obvious Beatles cop." But Cost came around recently, going so far as to pick up all the early Bee Gees albums on CD while visiting London. "The more you delve into this stuff," he allows, "you find there's a lot of hidden pop gems."
And yet after living with the tribute album for so long and then listening to the Bee Gees' versions afterward, Cost notes somewhat mordantly, "I can see where about half the time there's been an improvement on the original version by the artists that did the Melody Fair stuff. That's just my opinion, and some Bee Gees fans would quake at hearing that."
Dennis Davison and Alec Palao would quake. Last summer the pair, assisted by Cost, put together three shows (two in L.A., one in San Francisco) that featured bands performing only Bee Gees songs. Davison's Jigsaw Seen and Palao's Sneetches played, as did other bands from the tribute album. Also on hand at the San Francisco show was singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, who, Davison recalls, performed the Gibbs' "Don't Wanna Live Inside Myself." But Cost remembers Harding's performance for the way he jived the crowd: "John Wesley Harding got up there and said, 'Fuck the Bee Gees! They were never any good. What are all you people doing here anyway?'"
Well, Davison and Palao, at least, were genuflecting to their heroes. Both in their thirties, coming of age musically (Davison in Baltimore, Palao in London) in the wake of the late-Seventies punk-rock explosion, they missed out entirely on the Bee Gees Sixties hits, and later dismissed the group's disco output. "Like a lot of people from my generation, I disregarded that stuff completely," Palao says. As for Davison, he remembers that "when it [disco] was happening, I didn't like it. Of course, I wasn't allowed to A I was in a punk band." Now Davison scarfs up as many Bee Gees records as he can, including imported bootlegs of ancient material.
Davison already has begun coordinating two additional tributes A one to late-Sixties L.A. psychedelic savants Love, the other to poppy first-wave Brit invaders the Hollies A and in January the Bee Gees repaired to their local studio to write and record their next album, due out some time next year. Meanwhile, Bee Gees-written songs keep surfacing: former Bronski Beat/Communards singer Jimmy Sommerville recently reworked yet another version of "To Love Somebody," this one in a reggae style, and took it into the British top ten, while indie nippers Catherine included the brothers' 1967 "Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You" on their debut EP, Sorry.
"It's the greatest form of flattery that someone thinks your songs are worth enough to sing and then do their own version and enjoy it at the same time and actually love the song," Maurice Gibb says. "That's a great honor for us, and I don't think that feeling ever changes."
Melody Fair is available from eggBERT Records, 2755 Via Hacienda, P.O. Box 10022, Fullerton,