Monday, November 24, 2008

When Is A Bee Gees Song Not A Bee Gees Song?

More than a decade before Samantha Sang struck gold across the world with her 1978 hit ‘Emotion’, she had enjoyed a successful pop career in Australia under the name Cheryl Gray. Her birth name was somewhere between her two assumed nom de plumes. Cheryl Lau Sang was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1953. She began performing on local radio programs at the age of eight, won a string of talent contests, and by her teen years the gifted singer had signed with EMI. As Cheryl Gray she released six singles from 1966 to 1968, including ‘Brand New Woman’, ‘You Were There’ and her most successful effort ‘You Made Me What I Am’, which reached the national top 10 in 1967. During this period Gray was affectionately known as ‘the little girl with the big voice’.

In 1969 Gray decided to try her luck on the British scene. She was soon performing on the same bill as established acts like The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits and the Bee Gees. Gray took on the moniker of Samantha Sang for her first U.K. release, which was penned by one Barry Gibb (he of the falsetto Bee Gee variety), but neither ‘The Love Of A Woman’, nor the follow up ‘Nothing In The World Like Love’ made an impact on the charts. Visa issues also conspired against Sang establishing herself on the British scene at that time, with the singer (who was still only 17 at the time) forced to return to Australia. A few years later Samantha Sang resurfaced in the U.S. via a new record deal with Polydor. Her debut album was 1975’s ‘Samantha Sang and Rocked the World’. The album spawned three singles - ‘It Could Have Been’, ‘Raining Every Day Since Monday’ and ‘Can’t You Hear The Music?’. The answer to the last title must have been in the negative, at least so far as the general public hearing Samantha Sang’s songs (hmmm ‘Sang’s song’ - try saying that five times really quickly). Incidentally Samantha Sang also sang in the 1975 stage musical ‘The Magic Show’, alongside Wendy Stapleton (future lead singer with Wendy & The Rocketts - see Oct. post).

Miss Sang needed something special to bring her vocal talents to the attention of the music buying public. It was 1977 and if you needed someone to write you a sure fire hit song, who better than the Brothers Gibb. Barry and Robin had composed a song titled ‘Emotion’, which as good as it was couldn’t find a spot on the next Bee Gees release. Rather than waste it, they offered it to Samantha Sang to record on her next album. Barry Gibb produced Sang’s version and contributed backing vocals along with brother Robin. It should be noted that Sang was also under the management umbrella of the Robert Stigwood Organisation, which strengthened the Bee Gees connection even further. ‘Emotion’ hit the U.S. charts in November ‘77 (before Australia) and sailed on up to #3 early in ‘78. Australia soon followed suit and pushed ‘Emotion’ to #2 during the same period. The song was released as ‘Emotions’ in the U.K. (which kind of makes sense as it sounds like they’re singing “emotions” in the chorus) and Sang hit #11 on the British charts in the first half of ‘78. The reason I titled this post ‘When Is A Bee Gees Song Not A Bee Gees Song?’, was because in all honesty the Gibb brothers’ vocals are more prominent in the final mix than Samantha Sang, particularly in the chorus, though in all fairness Sang’s voice was a pitch-perfect fit for the Bee Gees sound. Regardless, Samantha Sang received just kudos for a worldwide top 10 hit, and was awarded the prestigious Cashbox-Billboard gong for ‘Top New Female Singer’.

The follow up single ‘You Keep Me Dancing’ was less endowed with the Bee Gees mojo but still managed a climb to #40 in Australia and #56 in the U.S. Sang’s album ‘Emotion’ achieved a gold certification in sales and peaked at #29 in the U.S. (OZ#35), and was positively reviewed across the board. Her follow up album ‘From Dance To Love’ was typically flavoured with an assortment of contemporary disco-dance offerings, including a version of ‘In The Midnight Hour’ (US#88), but Sang’s window of opportunity had passed. For all the success ‘Emotion’ brought to Sang, it’s just possible that the fact the song sounded so much like a Bee Gees song counted against her in the long run.

In 1994 the Bee Gees recorded their version of ‘Emotion’ but the song didn’t see the light of day until its inclusion on the 2001 compilation ‘Their Greatest Hits: The Record’.

In 2004 Sang, now residing back in Australia, announced a return to live performance and the release of her previous three albums on CD. A double CD compilation titled ‘The Ultimate Collection’ was also released in 2005. Sang has most recently sung a collection of standards amounting to the album ‘And The World Listened’, which is available via her own website.

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