Bee Gees – “Love You Inside Out”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in June 1979
Imagine a world where people got sick of disco — got sick of the word “disco.” White people. Imagine a world without white people. When Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb unleashed their numinous, terrifying shrieks, like Nazgûl on fell-beasts, many white men in 1979 huddled in terror, hiding beneath their copies of Get the Knack, Van Halen, and Candy-O. Despite the whiteness and straightness of the Bee Gees, the unearthly pitch of their falsetto harmonies abjured notions of masculinity, even corporeality; they made people uncomfortable, and their success must have seemed doubly irksome, for it meant that millions of people disagreed with them, their critics.
Although based on speculation, that preface articulates what I sensed as a child in the Reagan era. Men in their early thirties who had partied in discotheques seven years earlier regarded the era with embarrassment, and when “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever” or even the pre-Saturday Night Fever “Jive Talkin'” came on the radio — as they would in Miami, which never embargoed Bee Gees music, thanks to longtime resident Barry’s steady local presence — the mockery was instant, couched around their sexuality. Aging into a lover of pop and aware of their rep as songwriters, I did little except acknowledge the mega hits, nod appreciably at latter-day top ten “One,” and not give them further thought.
Released at the height of a popularity unseen since Beatlemania, Spirits Having Flown was instant platinum the moment it was pressed. It had to be. The industry depended on the Bee Gees, and, to a lesser extent Donna Summer, to legitimate the steady flow of exploitative knockoffs; their imprimatur granted their polyurethane kinetic pop a seriousness of intent if not quite the blessing of art. And, recall, this had happened in 1978. “Too Much Heaven,” blessed with an immaculate chorus, and “Tragedy,” a depiction of erotic hysteria whose guitar crunch and accelerated harmonies anticipate ABBA’s experiments by a year, sailed to #1 with ease. “Love You Inside Out” followed suit, the least impressive of the Gibbs’ singles since the early seventies. Chipper without cause, committed to addlement, melancholy in search of a referent, “Love You Inside Out” isn’t a pop song: it’s SERE training.
An undeniable opening, grant them: a light funk bottom around which Blue Weaver’s synth strings heave, hover, and evaporate. Most of the track betrays Barry’s fascination with David Bowie’s “Fame” — listen to the guitars snap and pop in multi-tracked bliss. When during the chorus guitar slides punctuate each word and it sounds as if drummer Dennis Bryon will do likewise. Then the verses surrender to chorus, a premature lift; something is missing. As usual in a Gibb Brothers record but more so here, the words work better as discrete observations; to follow along with “Love You” is folly, apt to produce despair (The idea anchoring the track — “Too many heartaches in one lifetime ain’t good for me” — would inspire Bryan Ferry, yawning, to ask for a fresh glass of prosecco). The point of view is not masculine; the singer doesn’t mind his heart hangin’ around, doesn’t mind saying LOVE. YOU. In a better integrated track, this fuck you to the meatheads would resound beyond gesture. Feist’s estimable cover, which strips “Love You” to percussion tracks and discreet synth stabs, suggests how a male singer besides Barry would have discarded the sadness and Kleenex. That’s a gender fuck.
“Love You Inside Out” gives the impression of having been fussed over for too many weeks, of Barry Gibb staring at a lit bulb in the room until the fuzz of the light overwhelms filament, base, and contours. The track is too hopped up for adult contemporary and too soft for the disco crowd, not a bad thing, but a reminder that centrist politicians who don’t mind angering liberals and conservatives please no one and eventually get voted out.
Reaching #1 seven weeks after its debut, “Love You Inside Out” proved an ephemeral hit. After a single week atop, it tumbled to #5 before tumbling — not unusual for its era, but an indicator that the Gibbs had become taken for granted, one more multi-platinum act instead of a phenomenon, albeit a phenomenon that had enjoyed a staggering six consecutive Billboard Hot 100 toppers. Two years later, “He’s a Liar” wheezed into the top thirty before expiring. Straight white America had tired of polyester pleasure seeking. Reinventing themselves as songwriter-producers for hire saved their careers during the Reagan-Thatcher years; they even managed a #1 under their own in 1987, the pleasant “You Win Again,” an attempt to keep up with the Stock Aitken Waterman onslaught. Their intermittent recording career stopped with the death of Maurice, then Robin. “Don’t try to tell me it’s all over!” Barry wailed on their last huge American hit, willing it to be so.