Bee Gees

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Song Review by

Al Green covered this pop classic from the early Bee Gees for his monumental Let's Stay Together, and though Green's is a soulful reinvention of the song, the Bee Gees' original "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" was comprised of as much R&B as any other musical influence. It is a quintessential Bee Gees number in that it is stylistically difficult to pigeonhole; the best description is that in the end it sounds like nothing other than the Bee Gees -- at any career point. In no particular order, a listener can hear influences that range from Burt Bachrach-ian pop, Beach Boys-informed (and by extension, the Four Freshmen) harmony singing, strains of British Invasion pop, folk-rock, Europop, as well as the acute understanding of American soul and R&B that the brothers Gibb seemed to possess from the outset of their career, right through their latter records. The acoustic guitar lopes along with a country beat. As drums drop out, strings swell gently like John Barry's score for the (1969) film Midnight Cowboy, which undoubtedly informs this 1971 track. The breathy vocal performances are memorably emotional and the melody is a typically indelible one. The prechorus is particularly stirring; the pauses that lead to the chorus are dramatic, expressing an almost unbearable longing and heartbreak. The famous, sexy breaths that follow are not merely wistful sighs, but exasperated cries: "How can you mend a broken man?/How can a loser ever win?/Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again." It is after this resolution line that the listener arrives at the conclusion that the elusive song is more country than anything else. But then again, maybe it is Baroque soul. It is just pure, simmering, restrained soul on Green's cover. Though the Bee Gees' recording sounds like nothing other than the embodiment of the group, it was actually written specifically for crooner Andy Williams, who passed on it. But Green somehow turns the song into his own trademark torch ballad. "The writing of it was neither a struggle nor a hardship," Robin Gibb remarked on the song, as quoted on the website. "The whole thing took about an hour to complete. The song reached the number one spot, to our great satisfaction."

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Trafalgar 1971 Polydor 3:58
Best of Bee Gees, Vol. 2 1973 Reprise / Rhino 3:59
No Image 1976 Polydor 3:57
Tales From the Brothers Gibb 1990 Polydor 3:56
Their Greatest Hits: The Record 2001 Reprise 3:59
The Ultimate Bee Gees 2009 Bee Gees / Polydor 3:58