Bee Gees

The Bee Gees were a pop trio comprised of three English-born/Aussie-raised brothers — Barry (born 1946) and twins Robin and Maurice Gibb (born 1949). The band were active as a recording unit from 1965 to 2001.

Members: Barry Gibb (guitar, lead vocals), Robin Gibb (lead vocals, 1958-69, 1970-2003), Maurice Gibb (bass, piano, vocals), Vince Melouney (guitar, 1967-68), Colin Petersen (drums, 1967-69), Geoff Bridgford (drums, 1969-72)

Performing together since childhood, the brothers first recorded for the Australian market during the mid-1960s. Returning to their nation of birth, the band’s third album — Bee Gees 1st (1967) — captured the mood of Swinging London with its mix of twee carnival pop and Victorian kitsch.

Enhancing their orchestral-pop approach, the Bee Gees became known for a string of ballads during the psychedelic era, including “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “I Started a Joke,” and “I Gotta Get a Message to You.” Following 1969’s ambitious double-set Odessa, the band briefly fractured as Robin attempted a solo career.

Regrouping in 1971, the Bee Gees scored a comeback with “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” which became their first number one single on the U.S. Billboard chart. Several more albums followed in a similarly light, sensitive vein, culminating with 1974’s Mr. Natural, on which the brothers began to draw influence from the American soul scene. Likewise, Barry Gibb had begun mastering a falsetto singing style reminiscent of high-octave black crooners such as Eddie Holman and Stylistics frontman Russell Thompkins Jr.

Now based in Miami, the Bee Gees issued Main Course (1975), which ushered a new and lucrative direction with the danceable slide of “Nights on Broadway” and “Jive Talking.” Emboldened by the commercial prospects of this new direction, the band cut Children of the World (1976) in a uniformly mirror-balled mode, as heard and felt in the strobe-light thrust of “You Should Be Dancing.”

With their dance-music credentials firmly established, the Bee Gees were musically commissioned for manager Robert Stigwood’s movie about Brooklyn disco culture, Saturday Night Fever (1977). The film and its soundtrack broke sales records worldwide, thanks in part to the iconicism of the album’s three defining hits — “Night Fever,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” and “Staying Alive.”

Through much of 1978, Bee Gees and Gibb-associated tracks — “Shadow Dancing” (Andy Gibb), “If I Can’t Have You” (Yvonne Elliman), “Emotion” (Samantha Sang), “Grease” (Frankie Valli) — traded places in the Billboard top spot. Later that year, however, the band hit a snag with their ill-advised big-screen adaptation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Undaunted, the Bee Gees soldiered on with Spirits Having Flown (1979), a mixed affair of equal parts dance-floor fervor and airy balladry. Singles from the album continued the band’s record-breaking streak, but the new decade brought professional obstacles as band and management parted ways.

In 1980, Barry Gibb wrote, produced, and dueted on Barbra Streisand’s hugely successful Guilty LP. Backup work for other artists would ultimately sustain the brothers after the Bee Gees’ 1981 album Living Eyes — forwarded by the low-registered, mechanically driven “He’s a Liar” — was rejected by radio and record buyers, despite the album’s material tightness and stylistic variety.

The 1982/83 period saw continued backup work from the brothers, with successes in the form of “Heartbreaker” for Dionne Warwick and “Islands In the Stream” — a chart-topping duet for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Beyond contributing to the soundtrack of the 1983 SNF sequel Staying Alive, the Bee Gees nameplate was benched during this period.

The brothers themselves, however, continued to produce under their own names. In 1984, Barry cut his first solo album while Robin found success in Europe with back-to-back 1983/84 solo LPs in a synthpop/AC vein. The Gibb’s also collaborated with Michael Jackson on Diana Ross‘s 1985 release Eaten Alive, which yielded further UK/Euro success with “Chain Reaction” and the album’s title-track.

In 1987, the Bee Gees reconvened with the album E.S.P., which topped charts throughout much of the world with its lead-off single “You Win Again.” The American public finally re-warmed to the brothers when the title-track to 1989’s One became their first Billboard Top 10 placement in a decade. Subsequent releases during the 1990s would mostly find success outside the U.S., save for 1997’s globally celebrated Still Waters CD.

The 21st century saw the Bee Gees reinvigorated with the release of This Is Where I Came In (2001), which showed refreshing stylistic breadth from the now-fiftysomething brothers. Sadly, Maurice Gibb died unexpectedly from a heart ailment in January 2003, effectively putting an end to the band’s story. With the 2012 passing of Robin Gibb, eldest-of-kin Barry has been prematurely cast as the last-one standing of this legendary musical brotherhood.

Discography:

  • The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs (1965)
  • Spicks and Specks (1966)
  • Bee Gees’ 1st (1967)
  • Horizontal (1968)
  • Idea (1968)
  • Odessa (1969)
  • Cucumber Castle (1970)
  • 2 Years On (1971)
  • Trafalgar (1971)
  • To Whom It May Concern (1972)
  • A Kick in the Head is Worth Eighty In the Pants (unreleased — recorded 1972)
  • Life in a Tin Can (1973)
  • Mr. Natural (1974)
  • Main Course (1975)
  • Children of the World (1976)
  • Spirits Having Flown (1979)
  • Living Eyes (1981)
  • E.S.P. (1987)
  • One (1989)
  • High Civilization (1991)
  • Size Isn’t Everything (1993)
  • Still Waters (1997)
  • This Is Where I Came In (2001)

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