Building Castles in Shifting Sands: The Bee Gees’ ‘Morning of My Life’

(originally appeared in Shindig! issue #67)

It seems that music fans either adore or despise the Bee Gees.  The adorers believe the Gibb brothers have been unjustly ignored even though they might have been as musically adventurous as the Beatles. The despisers have heard enough of the Bee Gees during the disco era to last a lifetime and then some. Having lived through the aforementioned era – at its peak, allegedly, at any given moment there was at least one radio station somewhere in North America playing a Bee Gees song – this writer has some sympathy for the “enough” argument. But unfortunately the falsetto vocals and nasty polyester trousers have distracted attention from some of the Bee Gees’ other, truly lovely music.

‘Morning of My Life’– also known as ‘In the Morning’ – was never a hit, but its brilliance is apparent from the numbers of other artists that have covered it. Using different times of day as frames for images of love and companionship, it’s sincere and heartfelt, and its simple melody lends itself equally well to a solo voice or to rich choral and instrumental harmonies.

‘Morning’ was written by Barry Gibb in ’65, while the Gibb family was living in Australia. Joseph Brennan’s wonderfully comprehensive Gibb Songs website (http://www.columbia.edu/~brennan/beegees/index.html) indicates that the song was inspired by Donovan’s ‘Colours’. The Bee Gees demoed ‘Morning’ in the summer of ‘66 at a small studio in suburban Sydney, during the same recording sessions that produced the hit-to-be ‘Spicks and Specks’.  At the time the recordings were made, the family were already planning to move back to the UK –  so rather than using the demos to promote the Bee Gees themselves, the Gibbs’ music publisher circulated the demos to attract interest in the songs. That strategy resulted in ‘Morning’’s first commercial release, as the B-side of a single by pop singer Ronnie Burns. The A-side, ‘Exit Stage Right’, was also a Barry Gibb composition. John Farrar wrote the orchestral arrangement for ‘Morning’, and the instrumental backing was by his band The Strangers.

In late ‘66, before the Gibbs set sail, their father Hugh sent a parcel of the Bee Gees’ Australian recordings to Beatles manager Brian Epstein, along with a letter outlining the group’s musical achievements. Accounts vary as to whether that parcel included all of the demos from the ‘Spicks and Specks’ sessions, so it’s not clear whether ‘Morning’ was part of the pitch to Epstein. Regardless, fellow Australian Robert Stigwood – at the time the managing director of Epstein’s NEMS management company – liked enough of what he heard to audition and then sign the Bee Gees after their arrival in the UK in early ‘67.

While Stigwood was facilitating the success of Bee Gees singles such as ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’, ‘To Love Somebody’, and ‘Massachusetts’, he was apparently also shopping ‘Morning’ to other artists. The most successful cover of the song from that period was by Esther and Abi Ofarim, in ’67. BBC executive Mark Cooper has recalled that the Ofarims’ show that year at the Royal Albert Hall was the first “popular music” concert he attended, and that ‘Morning’ was part of the couple’s “undoubted triumph” at a performance that garnered seventeen encores.

Two very different covers of ‘Morning’ came in 1968. Mary Hopkin’s crystalline Welsh-language version ‘Yn y bore’ appeared on on her four-song EP Llais Swynol. The sleeve notes described the translated ‘Morning’ as “bring[ing] the idea of new promise that each dawn presents to everyone”. The other ’68 cover was by Nina Simone; you don’t need me to tell you that she was a superb interpreter who commandingly transformed other people’s songs into her own. Her version of ‘Morning’ was on the live album ‘Nuff Said; however, the track was actually a studio recording with audience noise added in. Simone’s upbeat arrangement and dynamic vocal on ‘Morning’ turned the song into a bracing declaration of self-confidence and positivity.

The Bee Gees’ own career slowed somewhat in ’69 and ’70, partly as a result of Robin Gibb departing to pursue a solo career. During this time, Barry and Maurice Gibb occasionally performed ‘Morning’ when they made live appearances together; Lulu, then married to Maurice, also recorded ‘Morning’ at Muscle Shoals Studios for her ’70 album New Routes. In mid-‘70, Ronnie Burns visited London to see his old friends, and inadvertently nearly caused another misfortune for the group. As recounted by Bee Gees biographer Andrew Môn Hughes, “At his house, Barry took his guest downstairs to show him his gun collection. Handing Ronnie a German Luger, Barry uttered the immortal words ‘Careful, it has a hairline trig…’ Before Barry could finish what he was saying, the gun went off and its bullet parted his hair, missing it by just millimeters. It seems almost comical now, but at the time it was no laughing matter. ‘Barry just went white’, Ronnie recalled.”

With Barry having survived that incident, and Robin back in the group, the Bee Gees finally recorded their own version of ‘Morning’ in September ’70. This and several other Bee Gees songs became part of the soundtrack to the ’71 film Melody, also released under the title S.W.A.L.K. The gentle innocence of this slightly slower rendition of ‘Morning’ perfectly fitted the film’s endearing story of young love. Around the same time, the original demo of ‘Morning’ surfaced on Inception/Nostalgia, a briefly released European compilation album now highly prized by collectors.

It’s likely that ‘Morning’’s appearance on the Melody soundtrack gave it wider exposure that inspired another spate of cover versions. Folksinger Marie Little recorded it on her ’71 album Factory Girl; jazz vocalist Marian Montgomery (who in ’64 had the distinction of releasing the first-ever version of the evergreen ‘That’s Life’) included ‘Morning’ on her ’72 album Marian in the Morning. Paper Lace covered ‘Morning’ in ’72 for their second single, prior to their subsequent success with ‘Billy Don’t Be a Hero’ and ‘The Night Chicago Died’. Other covers in ’72 came from Val Doonican and the German group Love Generation, followed by a reggae interpretation by John Holt in ’73.

Since the mid-‘70s, covers of ‘Morning’ have become less frequent. Andy, the youngest Gibb brother, recorded it in ’80 with the intent of including it as a knock-on for his Greatest Hits compilation. ‘Morning’ did not make the final version of that album, but the track has since appeared on other compilations of his work. In ’81, German vocalist Mike Telly, also known as Michael Flexig, did a rather bombastic Euro-metal-style cover (think along the lines of ‘The Final Countdown’), after which he went on to participate in several of guitarist Uli Jon Roth’s musical projects. More recent versions have come from the Dutch vocalists Mathilde Santing in 2006 and Sabrina Starke in 2015.

‘Morning’ was frequently part of the Bee Gees’ live shows throughout their career. YouTube has several videos of the three Gibbs performing the song at various times; some of them are a little difficult to watch in retrospect because of Maurice’s drugged-up antics, but there’s also a gorgeous acoustic rendition from the “One Night Only” Las Vegas concert in ’97. Since his brothers’ passing, Barry Gibb has also performed ‘Morning’ in his solo concerts. The original recording of ‘Morning’ was included on the two Bee Gees compilations titled Birth of Brilliance released in ’94 and ’98 by Festival Records in Australia, and the Melody version has been part of several other Bee Gees anthologies.

A simple sweet song that’s charming without being soppy is something that any music lover should be able to appreciate. If you believe the Bee Gees are underrated geniuses, you already know that ‘Morning’ is a great song. But if you’re still recoiling from Bee Gees disco overload, find ‘Morning’ and have a listen. It might just change your mind about them.

 

To Love Somebody: Songs of the Bee Gees 1966-1969 is out now on Ace Records

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