Song of the Week: NY Mining Disaster 1941, by Bee Gees

Song of the Week: NY Mining Disaster 1941, by Bee Gees

My Bee Gees obsession is well known. And so it is that I think a little more than perhaps I should about things like this.

New York Mining Disaster 1941 - The Ultimate Bee GeesApril 14, 1967: Bee Gees release their first US single, “New York Mining Disaster, 1941”  (my, how times have changed note: they had recorded the song less than one month prior to its release). The oft-repeated part of the story is that people were abuzz at the time, speculating that the single was, in fact, a new Beatles song released under a pseudonym. Something about the harmonies calling the Beatles to mind. I realize that hindsight is roughly equal to one, but whenever I hear that song, I have to wonder just how stoned people were in the late 1960s to think such a thing. Robin & Barry’s vocals are – to me – so utterly distinct. Today, as I listened to The Ultimate Bee Gees in the car, I decided to really listen to the track.

As I did, I tried to take myself back to early 1967 and put myself in the shoes of a typical music fan. That the most current Beatles LP of the time was Revolver (Sgt. Pepper’s wouldn’t be released until June of ’67) is a vital point. It was during the Rubber Soul/Revolver period that The Beatles embraced their most folky elements and the vocals on songs like “Think For Yourself” and “And Your Bird Can Sing” are a bit more frantic and brittle than what preceded and followed them.

That, combined with the strummy doubled acoustic guitars on the Bee Gees’ track, lead me to a new place: if I’m feeling generous, I can forgive the silly people of the 60s their Fab-Four-fueled speculation. That notwithstanding, “NY Mining Disaster” remains a singular work in the pantheon of pop music. Arguably a far more compelling fictional story line than anything McCartney ever concocted and featuring a haunting minor verse and rousing major chorus, the song is a deceptively complex work from three teenaged boys who were only just beginning to reveal their brilliance.

This year is touted as the 50th anniversary of the start of the Gibbs’ long musical journey. The arc of their career is staggeringly individual and overflowing with hits. It’s good to see them getting some of the respect they richly deserve.