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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"How Deep Is Your Love": a mature sound and discussion for the disco era

The Bee Gees delved into what happens after an initial romantic attraction in their most widely acclaimed number.

Yesterday, I employed the Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition" as a lens through which I could view young love and emotions. Today, I continue the emotional thread where I left off, but I take the logical next step: using another song to look at the same attraction more maturely and with greater measure. I didn't begin the day with this idea in mind, but by nightfall I couldn't get today's selection out of my head, so I decided to roll with it, and I ultimately realized I could connect it to yesterday's post.

Whereas Dougy Mandagi's lyrics for the Temper Trap vault into love with innocence and no holds barred, the Bee Gees are more hesitant and asking of their narrator's partner in what I believe to be their best song, "How Deep Is Your Love." Part of the legendary soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, "How Deep Is Your Love" tells of a lover who wants to make sure his commitment and feelings are reciprocated before committing themselves.

As I discussed last week, it took me a while to come around to a lot of music in the disco realm. However, I've always enjoyed listening to "How Deep Is Your Love," and that might be because it straddles the line between disco and soft rock. It isn't fully committed to either realm, but it has the right influences from both to make their effects apparent. The Bee Gees could have easily upped the tempo and added a backbeat to make it a full-on disco number, but in restraining themselves from going toward their more typical style, they struck a perfect balance for this particular track.

Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb also struck a balance in their songwriting, with Barry especially working with keyboardist Blue Weaver to formulate the chord progression on his Fender Rhodes electric piano. Their process kept them away from typical measure limits to sections, instead going along with the feelings of the previous chords they established. This freer approach ultimately resulted in 14-bar verses and 10-bar choruses (with 4 bars tacked on in the repeats to end the tune), but I don't think anyone ever questions the unconventional lengths — because they work, and the Bee Gees were calculated in how they went about going against a traditional form. It's so easy to box oneself into conventional artistic ideas, but in freeing oneself from those constraints, one often finds greater ability for expression and storytelling.

The song's story is quite easy to follow through the ups and downs of the chord progression as well as Barry and Robin's lead vocals. Barry takes the lead on the verses and pre-choruses, where he first tells of his need to be close to the object of his affection: "And the moment that you wander far from me / I wanna feel you in my arms again." In the pre-choruses, he shifts to wondering if this other party feels the same way. The line "And you come to me on a summer breeze" makes it seem as if his narrator rather quickly fell in love, and begins to wonder after the initial encounter if the other person feels the same way. It's through the pre-chorus and its transition to the chorus — "And it's me you need to show / How deep is your love?" — that I made the connection to "Sweet Disposition." Dougy Mandagi seemed to sing of the affection blossoming, but not the aftermath; meanwhile, the Gibbs continue the story after the attraction is first realized with a questioning of its sustainability.

Robin's chorus (supported by plenty of excellent harmonies from his brothers) follows, citing the need for both parties in the potential relationship to stay focused on their true feelings, rather than giving into the "world of fools" around them, which have the ability to keep them down. This is another very mature lens through which a potential new romance is discussed: ensuring the feelings are true by pushing away distractions. So many outside forces try to exert influence on people, especially when they are romantically intertwined, and giving into those forces will result in muddled communication and the truth being less clear. To really know if love is true and "deep," both parties must narrow their lens to only themselves; as Robin sings at the end of the chorus, "We belong to you and me."

Between the beautiful chords that make up "How Deep Is Your Love" and the mature discussion of romance in its lyrics, the Bee Gees and their associates crafted one of the deepest songs (no pun intended) within pop's disco sphere of influence. It's no surprise, then, that even with disco's divisiveness, that the song remains so highly regarded, including by Barry Gibb himself. A well-written song has the ability to transcend the boundaries and stigmata of genre, and "How Deep Is Your Love" does just that.


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