The least likely providers of awesome gospel-tinged R&B throughout the 1960s and ’70s were three Australian brothers who went by the professional name the Bee Gees. The Brothers Gibb spent the better part of a decade fluctuating between large amounts of success and long periods of languishing, never quite finding their proper footing. Were they twee soft rock peddlers like on ‘I Started a Joke’, sweeping balladeers like on ‘Massachusetts’, or perhaps something more? If they enjoyed an antithesis in their time it simply had to be Janis Joplin. But you’d be wrong.
You wouldn’t have thought it by the Bee Gees lily-white presentation, but there were plenty of soul influences that went into the band’s songwriting. It became more obvious once disco became The Bee Gees bread and butter in the mid ’70s, but even before the scratchy guitars and ear-piercing falsetto, the Gibbs were taking cues from American roots music.
It becomes clear just how much they appreciated R&B when other artists take on their work. Most notably, this is on Al Green‘s unparalleled take on ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’, where the orchestral flourishes are replaced by slow-burning southern strings and gospel organ. Green was America’s poet laureate when it came to smooth-as-silk soul, and he sings ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’ like it was always meant for him.
But even before that classic reinterpretation, the Bee Gees were having their prim and proper songs covered by American singers with a fair bit of edge to them. Few songs have a more drastic change between performances than when Janis Joplin decided to take on the group’s psychedelic pop classic ‘To Love Somebody’ on her solo debut I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!
When Joplin went on The Dick Cavett Show to promote the album, she busted out her version of ‘To Love Somebody’. Taking its cues more from the classic Stax sound of Otis Redding and Booker T. & the MG’s, Joplin’s version of ‘To Love Somebody’ dispenses of the monster hook at the centre of the Bee Gees version for some more elastic vocal work from Joplin. Of course, Joplin puts her signature snarl to good use, and without the proper background knowledge, it would be impossible to envision this version as a Bee Gees song.
Watch Joplin perform ‘To Love Somebody’ down below.