One Song at a Time – Islands in the Stream

Posted on August 3, 2012

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Family room, Williamstown, June 2012

You don’t have to have every song you like. You don’t have to own all the music you love.

After Robin Gibb died in May this year I watched a Bee Gees documentary with my wife Julie and our youngest child, 15 year old Reuben. We sat together on the couch, eating chocolate.

At the end of the documentary I told Reuben that while I’ve always enjoyed The Bee Gees’ songs – especially the ballads – I don’t have a single record or cassette or CD of theirs. I said that I grew up with their songs on the AM radio and on the black and white telly. There was always a Bee Gees song in your head: Spicks And Specks, To Love Somebody, Massachusetts, Words, Run To Me…

From the mid-1960s through to the early-mid 1970s, The Bee Gees music was a part of everyday life – like playing in the backyard til dark, like riding a bike without having to wear a helmet, like eating spoonfuls of Milo straight out of the tin when Mum wasn’t in the kitchen.

But I do have a Bee Gees song. Just the one.  Islands in the Stream was written by Barry, Maurice and Robin and was a huge hit for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton in 1983. I liked the song back then but I was too much of a music snob to confess to its guilty pleasures. I’d pretty much by-passed The Bee Gees’ disco songs of the mid-late 1970s but here was another Gibb brothers’ song as catchy as those from my childhood.

But I wasn’t too sure about Kenny and Dolly. Weren’t they mainstream country singers? White-bread country? Weren’t they just a bit too sweet, a bit too saccharine?

The song’s been covered by more than a few people apparently, including My Morning Jacket with Neko Case, a Swedish singer called Kikki Danielsson, and actors Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon (in their program Gavin and Stacey). The song’s co-writer Barry Gibb has performed the song with Olivia Newton-John, as well as with his two brothers.

In 2007 country singer Troy Cassar-Daley and indie-pop darling Ella Hooper did a delightful version on RocKwiz: Cassar-Daley looking very country in a black open neck shirt with white piping and Hooper, sporting blonde hair, looking as sweet as ever. They’re both smiling with the joy of  performing the song.

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in-between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me to another world
And we rely on each other, ah-ah
From one lover to another, ah-ah

And now, here I am five years later, sitting on the couch with my wife, eating chocolate and watching a RocKwiz duets DVD, a Christmas present from a few years back.

Islands in the Stream is still as catchy as hell, like so many of The Bee Gees’ songs. And since 2007 it’s had the RocKwiz seal of approval. What might have been corny is now cool.

As the song finishes and I reach for the remote control to play it again my wife suggests I might be watching Ella Hooper more than listening to the song. I don’t disagree.

Islands in the Stream on YouTube:

Ella Hooper and Troy Cassar-Daley

Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers

The Bee Gees

Ella Hooper’s debut solo album, yet to be released, is called In Tongues.

Troy Cassar- Daley’s latest album, Home, was released in March 2012.

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