MAY 1967 (45 YEARS AGO)
Bee Gees: “New York Mining Disaster 1941 (Have You Seen My Wife, Mr. Jones)” b/w “I Can’t See Nobody” (Atco 45-6487) 45 single is released in the US.
“New York Mining Disaster 1941” is a song by the Bee Gees, written by Barry and Robin Gibb. It was the first Bee Gees song to be released in the United States, and their first song to hit the charts in the US or UK.
The song recounts the story of a miner trapped in a cave-in. He is sharing a photo of his wife with a colleague (“Mr. Jones”) while they hopelessly wait to be rescued. According to the liner notes for their box-set Tales from the Brothers Gibb (1990), this song was inspired by the 1966 Aberfan mining disaster in Wales. The song’s lyrics do not contain the song’s title. However, some copies were pressed with the title “New York Mining Disaster 1941 (Have You Seen My Wife, Mr. Jones?)”, as the bracketed subtitle does appear in the lyrics of the song. In the second and third verses, the lyrical lines get slower and slower, as to indicate that life is about to expire for the miners.
At the time, rumours circulated that the Bee Gees were The Beatles recording under a pseudonym (the Bee Gees’ name was supposedly code for “Beatles Group”), in part because the record referenced NEMS Enterprises (Brian Epstein’s management agency, which had just been joined by Bee Gees’ manager Robert Stigwood).
On March 7, 1967, the first day the Bee Gees recorded four songs, recording their own instrumental parts and vocals. The orchestra and some other parts were added the next week. “New York Mining Disaster 1941” was done first, and it may have already been nominated as the first single on the strength of the Polydor demo. This version however was not released until 2006. The other three songs were released, with later additions.
Maurice Gibb recalled in an interview with Mojo magazine: “The opening chord doesn’t sound like a conventional A minor. Barry was using the open D tuning he’d been taught when he was nine, and I was playing it in conventional tuning. It gives an unusual blend. People went crazy trying to figure out why they couldn’t copy it.”
Atco distributed promos with a blank label and the suggestion that it was an English group whose name started with B. Many DJs thought it was a new Beatles song and played the song heavily. Atco also retitled the song, to make sure people could find it in the shops, “New York Mining Disaster 1941 (Have You Seen My Wife, Mr. Jones).