I know what you’re thinking right now. Upon hearing about Higher Than A Mountain: The Songs Of Andy Gibb, even I, who worshipped the late Andy Gibb as a child–straight-up poster-on-the-wall, scrapbook-keeping loved him–even I questioned the need for an entire tribute album. Not only did Andy release just three studio albums in his lifetime, he was unquestionably a singles artist, meaning those tracks were always the outright best songs on his full-lengths. I remember being actively disappointed by this fact after I’d spent several weeks of hard-earned allowance to buy his debut LP. So the question is unavoidable: are there enough great Gibb tracks to justify a cover compilation?
The answer is, surprisingly, mostly, yes.
Portland’s Curry Cuts label specialize in indie-pop tribute compilations. They’ve covered everything from James Bond themes to Paul Williams compositions to ’70s/early ’80s AM radio soft rock. These comps are all refreshingly reverential, safe havens where artists don’t approach the songs mockingly or ironically, but offer them up with genuine, unabashed love. No sign of the words “guilty pleasures” on any sleeves here. Nope, just a label crushing hard on some seemingly uncool songs with no shame or embarrassment. In light of what music critics have told us we should collectively feel about this stuff over the years, Curry Cuts’ approach feels almost rebellious. Their curated covers are the sonic equivalent of Karen Carpenter belting out “Top Of The World” whilst simultaneously giving the finger to all the haters.
From 1976 though 1980, Andy landed 8 songs in the U.S. Top 20, the first three of which went to #1. It was a truly impressive run, yet also unsurprising. Y’see, Andy’s brothers, the Bee Gees, arguably the most popular pop stars on the planet at that point, had a hand in composing a great many of them (Barry in particular). The result: perfectly constructed pieces of melodic, sticky, discofied pop, with endless love on their collective minds. And as the gods blessed Andy with the standard-issue big breathy beautiful Gibb voice, he delivered them very convincingly (ask any late ’70s tween girl, because yeah).
Fact: Songs written by the Gibb brothers in any combination have very, very strong bones. The basic Bee Gees track can withstand, support, and exult literally any musical approach and come out looking good (check out our Best Bee Gees Covers Ever list for further proof). According to the label, Higher Than A Mountain means “to re-introduce some of Andy Gibb’s terrific music to a new generation of listeners.” Its secret dual purpose: show us how freakin’ great these Barry Gibb (and his brothers) songs sound when done in classic power pop style. On nearly all the covers here, the disco is drained out and replaced with jangling, crunchy, lush power pop sounds. This is music to soundtrack junior high dances to, no matter what century.
Higher Than A Mountain is a fun listen across the board. One of its biggest surprises: some of the album’s coolest, most successful covers are not of the former number #1 variety, but instead those tracks that fall into the “other” category. Within that gang of “others” are sweet reinterpretations of hits that didn’t quite reach the top, a superb twist on a non-charting single as well as a super-kickass turn on a dyed-in-the-wool deep cut.
As far as the big stuff, the best reinterpretation here is Lisa Mychols’ lush candy-coated Carpenter-esque take on slinky heartbreaker “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away,” closely followed by Pop 4’s version of 1977 #1 and album namesake “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water,” which seamlessly marries a Matthew Sweet style jangle with smooth West Coast/Yacht Rock style coda. David Brookings offers a nice Nick Lowe style run through of “An Everlasting Love” while Keith Slettedahl slows down rocker “Time Is Time” and squeezes it into a pretty sweet piece of ’70s bubblegum.
But again, the finest turns on Higher Than A Mountain come from deeper within the Gibb canon, from the aforementioned “others.” And if there is one lyrical theme you can guarantee will work within the context of power pop apart from general horniness, it is good old romantic desperation. So when Minky Starshine recast disco slow burn and Gibb falsetto showcase “Desire” into a sugary-swaying-stars in your eyes last song at the school dance, it sounds so correct that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t born that way.
“Me (Without You)” is the primo Andy Gibb power ballad and home to one of his most impassioned and memorable vocal performances. Coke Belda cleverly transforms the song into a full on sloppy crying anthem, slathered in ELO style harmonics and an always-welcome Red Kross vibe.
There’s even a gift for melodic rock-heads, courtesy of The Test Pressings. They completely dismantle dance floor deep cut “Why” and sculpt it into a lean, ballsy combination of Cheap Trick and Blue Oyster Cult (with a pinch of hair metal thrown in because why the hell not).
I need to mention a couple of the gentler turns on the album, both of which are pretty embraceable. While the original version of “I Can’t Help It” was a string-laden, laid-back, soft rock duet with Olivia Newton-John, sparkle*jets u.k decide to throw a direct punch to the heart, turning up the vocal volume and injecting the proceedings with some genuine ’60s girl group fire; it’s both syrupy and superfine. Lastly, there’s Unicórnios Impressionantes, who apply a supremely handsome bossa nova shuffle to “After Dark,” the slinky title track of the last Andy studio album.
Higher Than A Mountain is a heart on the sleeve, welcomingly inventive celebration of some pretty swell pop songs by a guy who is unfortunately most remembered for how it all went wrong. The Curry Cuts people have magically formulated it to work for both fans and cynics. Not only does it make songs thought by some to be cheesy sound resolutely cool, it honors Andy Gibb with the dignity and appreciation he deserves.
You can check it out via Bandcamp right here.
Higher Than a Mountain: The Songs Of Andy Gibb Track List:
- (Love Is) Thicker Than Water – Pop 4
- Shadow Dancing – The Corner Laughers
- I Can’t Help It – sparkle*jets u.k
- (Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away – Lisa Mychols
- Me (Without You) – Coke Belda
- After Dark – Unicórnios Impressionantes
- I Just Want To Be Your Everything – Greg Pope
- Time Is Time – Keith Slettedahl
- Desire – Minky Starshine
- Words and Music – The Armoires
- An Everlasting Love -David Brookings
- Wherever You Are – Irene Peña
- Why – The Test Pressings
- Flowing Rivers – Jason Berk
- One More Look At The Night – Sharp & Fernando Perdomo One More Look At The Night