Nina Simone was a Bee Gees fan, and interpreted no less than four of their songs in the late sixties.
Nina Simone first sang the Bee Gees on ‘Nuff Said, a live album recorded at the Westbury Music Fair (in upstate New York) on April 7, 1968. This was three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, and Simone, who was especially intolerant of social injustice, was surely livid over his untimely death.
The opener to her act, “In The Morning” is fairly sunny- and is a fraud. The song was recorded in the studio with applause and an introduction added.
“Please Read Me” is actually live and more plaintive- it’s a truly pained call for understanding. The Bee Gees original sounds like a cry for help from someone in a bit of a slump (lyrics: Maybe I’ve been lying on your couch too long/ I’ll stay if you will see me through/ Explain why/ Please read me), but Simone’s reading is a cry for her life- Please read me, you bastards! This is another great example of Nina Simone taking a pop song with ambiguous lyrics and imbuing it with significance and weight.
A year later, Nina recorded “To Love Somebody” and “I Can’t See Nobody.” I was surprised to find out that “To Love Somebody” was actually written by Gibb for Otis Redding, who died in a plane crash before recording it. Most Simone fans probably know these versions.
P.P. Arnold and Janis Joplin also did great versions of “To Love Somebody.” It really does seem like a song more fit for a female vocalist.
The versality of the song is really a testament to Barry Gibb as a songwriter. Don’t even get me started on the 70s or 80s. I once tried to play “Woman In Love” from the Barry Gibb & Barbra Streisand duet album Guilty for a very serious music nerd friend of mine, and it didn’t go down well. That record is a posting for another day, and I’l always stand by it as late-disco genius.
Here’s a video of Janis singing ‘To Love Somebody” live on Dick Cavett in July 18, 1969.
And heres’s P.P. Arnold on a French teen dance show in 1968 with her rendition.