Cover Versions of #1s – The Dee Gees & Miley Cyrus

As a celebration for reaching 500 (!!) #1s, I’m going to spend the rest of the week treating you to some cover versions of #1s. First up, some 2020s takes on a couple of disco classics…

The Dee Gees – ‘Tragedy’ (originally a #1 in 1979 for The Bee Gees)

There are some people for whom Steps did the definitive cover of ‘Tragedy’. (They do exist…) Luckily for them, that version will feature at #1 in its own right. So, stepping up to the plate with their own cover… The Dee Gees. Ok, ok… Foo Fighters! For their most recent album, the band devoted half of the run-time to covers of late-seventies Bee Gees hits. ‘Night Fever’, ‘You Should Be Dancing’… But I’ve gone for this one. It’s a pretty faithful cover – I do wish they’d gone a little more ‘rawk’ – though Dave Grohl’s falsetto is a majestic thing to behold. There was a time when rock bands wouldn’t have touched disco with the end of a smashed-up guitar. Those days are gone, hurrah! And isn’t ‘Hail Satin’ just the perfect album name for a hard rock band’s disco covers?

Miley Cyrus – ‘Heart of Glass’ (originally a #1 in 1979 for Blondie)

In the past twenty years, it’s become the thing for current chart acts to do live sets for radio stations and streaming services. Radio 1 kicked it off, in the UK at least, with their ‘Live Lounge’ series. Here then, is Miley Cyrus belting her way through ‘Heart of Glass, from the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas in 2020. It’s not the subtlest take on the song, and it’s a pretty faithful cover like The Dee Gees, but there’s something compelling in the way she just goes for it. Folks agreed, because this made #38 in the UK charts (quite unusual for a live cover version).

Two more tomorrow…

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434. ‘Tragedy’, by The Bee Gees

Who’s up for some more disco-infused rock? Everyone? I thought as much. If you ignore Boney M’s Xmas #1, and squint very hard to hear the guitars in ‘Y.M.C.A.’ (they must be in there somewhere), then I make this five disco-rock chart-toppers in a row.

Tragedy, by The Bee Gees (their 4th of five #1s)

2 weeks, from 25th February – 11th March 1979

And who else is turning their hand to it next but The Bee Gees, those great musical chameleons. Gone are the soft chords and swirling strings of ‘Night Fever’, replaced with something much more hard-edged. Queen-like guitars, distorted synth riffs, a harpsichord (?)… The trio’s falsettos hit harder here, too. On ‘Night Fever’ they soared; here they are ragged and semi-deranged…

Tragedy! When the feeling’s gone and you can’t go on… It’s a great hook, simply shrieking the word ‘Tragedy!’ Tragedy! When you lose control and you got no soul… It is, I think, a song about of a panic attack, a midlife crisis in which you wake up in drenched in sweat wondering where the hell your life is going… Even the drums leading up to the chorus sound like a shuddering heartbeat. All the while that ominous riff plays in the back of your brain.

The drama is upped for the solo, which is preceded by an ear-splitting howl, and the final choruses, which are preceded by explosions. It’s ridiculous, really; very OTT. Apparently the sound-effect was made by the mouth of Barry Gibb, which is impressive as it really does sound like a thunderclap. The song fades out, all squeals and explosions and riffing guitars. A mental breakdown never sounded so catchy…

This is The Bee Gees’ 4th number one, and my favourite so far. Their sixties hits were fine, but paled against the musical behemoths surrounding them. ‘Night Fever’ was better than I expected, but still for me lacked a true killer hook. ‘Tragedy’ has that hook, and then some. It’s a ‘go big or go home’ moment – the band perhaps looking to move beyond ‘Saturday Night Fever’ with a statement piece.

However, I will show my age and admit that I knew this song first and foremost as a kid thanks to, yes, Steps’ million-selling cover version from the late-nineties. It will be featuring on this countdown in due course, so I’ll say no more save for the fact that I cannot now hear the word ‘Tragedy!’ without fighting the impulse to throw my hands up parallel to my face. Ah well…

The Bee Gees will be back eventually, after another near-decade long hiatus from the top of the singles charts, with another musical reinvention (and probably my favourite of their five number ones). In the more immediate future, though, we are going to crack on with this wonderful run of chart-toppers we’re in the midst of.