The Bee Gees - Odessa (2009)

By: Andrew Sandoval

January 2020 marks my 30th year as a record producer. For the next 30 days (+ a lot of grace days), I am posting one of the albums I have worked on over the past three decades. Here is #26.

The Bee Gees – Odessa (2009) is a CD reissue of a 1969 album in mono & stereo + a full CD – Sketches For Odessa – of demos, rough mixes & unissued tracks.

Wow, where to start. This record is one of my life-changing, all-time favorite albums. But I can say that producing this reissue was filled with turmoil. In 2005, Rhino made a 10-year-deal with the Bee Gees to reissue their entire catalog (including their earliest recordings from Australia).

The main feature of the deal was that the band would be paid a certain advance every year for ten years, recoupable against the sales of one of the greatest catalogs in pop music history. I still remember my great delight when Jimmy Edwards Jimmy brought me in to do what was some of the best work of my career with one of my favorite artists.

The tapes arrived in large crates and seeing all the wonderful analog reels from IBC and beyond indeed felt like all my Christmases came at once. The first reissue would be a box set of the Bee Gees’ first 3 UK albums in mono & stereo with bonus tracks that I was lucky enough to mix.

The sales of that set in 2006 and a reissue of Greatest in 2007 were respectable, but Rhino had not anticipated the downward trend in physical sales and had unrealistic expectations of what the catalog might generate. I had prepared this lavish reissue of Odessa in 2007 and it sat for two years as acrimony over the deal developed.

To sit in a room with financial people and have them discuss the dire consequences of not coming up with enough sales was something I never thought of when I took that bus ride in 1989. It was uncomfortable, unpleasant and nearly unbearable. My very existence on their payroll had become a burden to the company I had cherished since childhood.

Requests like, “Hey, when you come back from lunch, I need to hear all of your 100 thousand unit ideas,” were not uncommon. Truth be told, there were no 100 thousand unit type titles in the catalog business at that point. We’d hit a major dead end.

I never gave up on issuing Odessa in its 3CD splendor, with a flocked cover and all of the goodies I had uncovered. I reasoned that if people discovered this album, it would mean as much to them as Forever Changes or Village Green Preservation Society. Maybe the Bee Gees themselves would help this ice melt?

Well, no. And it was questioned why people would want 3 CDs of this music at $30, when they could have a single CD for $12 without all of the extraneous crap I had felt necessary to include. It was my strongly held belief that the price point would not stand between people and their purchase of the CD.

Eventually, it was approved that Odessa would be issued after 2 years of waiting and liner notes were needed. Unfortunately, the band were not in favor of me writing the notes. They didn’t necessarily want someone else to do them. Why not stick it out with nothing added? I begged, I lobbied, I tried to stay professional. Robin Hurley kindly brokered a compromise.

I could write the notes and finish the project but the Bee Gees wouldn’t contribute to my work. “Tell Andrew to pretend we’re dead,” said the eldest Gibb. “Write it from that perspective.” It was an interesting idea, but there was so much I wanted to know about this enigmatic set of recordings.

Started during a US Tour in 1968 at Atlantic Studios, the earliest session reels were black with smoke damage from a famous fire. The band itself had combusted upon release and spent almost 2 years apart.

That may have been the reason they didn’t want to talk about it. The first week of sales were solid, but after that my dreams fizzled. By the end of 2009, I found myself working out my final days at Rhino. My job had been “impacted” as it was explained to me over the phone.

In November, I visited the set of Dancing With The Stars where Barry and Robin were guests. I brought my copy of Odessa for them to sign. I wanted to express to them that this was still a personal favorite of mine and I was grateful for the opportunity they had given me.

“Barry, I just wondered if you would sign my copy of Odessa, it is one of my favorite albums. It means so much to me.” Barry looked at me and I think he could sense my sincerity. “People say that about this album, but all I remember are the bad times around it.”

And that was the lesson: sometimes your favorite music is a burden to the artist. It reminds them of painful times and sometimes your passion remains in isolation and cannot be distributed to others. Still there is a magic to this music. From the shimmer of “Melody Fair” to the bleak “You’ll Never See My Face Again.”

Just as when the British ship Veronica was lost without a sign, I had hit an iceberg in life. I would need to reinvent myself and move on from many things & people I loved to find a way into my future with music.