Hailing from Manchester, England, The Bee Gees were popular from the late sixties into the eighties and beyond. The Brothers Gibb consists of three singing and songwriting brothers, Barry and his younger twin siblings Robin and Maurice (pronounced “Morris”). Barry also plays guitar, while Maurice (1949-2003) was proficient at both guitar and keyboards.
The Gibb family emigrated to Queensland, Australia in 1958. Still children, they soon began their professional music career. Here they are, in 1960 on Australian television, before the miracles of orthodontia:
Even in the early days, Barry was a prolific songwriter. By 1965, they scored their first minor hit song, “Wine And Women”:
Typical mid-sixties British pop, catchy nonetheless. There’s something special about brothers and sisters singing together. It’s a great sound; there’s nothing quite like it.
British Pop Stars of the Late Sixties
Unfulfilled in Australia, the ambitious brothers returned to England in early 1967. Before departing, their father, Hugh Gibb, sent demonstration tapes (“demos”) to Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, who passed them along to Robert Stigwood. Through this connection, the Bee Gees signed their first major record deal, a five year contract with Polydor and Atco records.
Bee Gees music in the late sixties is clearly influenced by the Beatles. They consistently appeared in the American and British pop charts, with heavily orchestrated and often tragic tales of love and loss. One of my fuzzy recollections from grade school is some kid saying the Bee Gees were going to be the next Beatles. An unfair comparison in hindsight, but the Bee Gees were major artists, and would remain so for nearly twenty years.
Robin Gibb had emerged as a songwriter, and his contributions are among the band’s best in this time period. Here he sings the ultra-sad “I Started A Joke”, a cautionary tale of social alienation.
A sibling rivalry between Barry and Robin was now apparent. Creative differences caused Robin to leave the group for a year. The “British Invasion” sound of the sixties fell out of favor, and the brothers embraced the electrified, syncopated rhythms of American dance music. After struggling for several years to regain prominence, the band moved to Miami, Florida, and rebuilt their career around the growing trend of soulful music known as disco.
Saturday Night Fever
After a number of hits, including “Nights On Broadway”, “You Should Be Dancing”, and the #1 “Jive Talkin'”, the Bee Gees were approached to provide songs for Saturday Night Fever, a movie about working class kids from Brooklyn, and the social scene of the local discotechque.
The movie made a star of John Travolta, and was a huge success and cultural phenomenon. The double disc soundtrack album, featuring new and old Bee Gees songs, as well as other contemporary dance songs, is one of the top ten selling albums of all time, with over 40 million copies sold in its history. The Bee Gees were now superstars.
Movie critic Gene Siskel (1946-1999), half of the great review team of Siskel & Ebert, often cited Saturday Night Fever as his favorite movie.
“My fever for ‘Fever’ goes beyond its music, even beyond its spectacular dancing sequences. I have come to love the film’s characters — all of them. And the only explanation that comes close to describing my visceral attachment to the film is that it is a 119-minute compression of most everyone’s teenage years. It’s all there: the clothes, dancing, cars, booze, fellowship, sexual thrills, sexual frustration, parental affection, parental hatred, unrequited love, the first job, doubting religion, and seeing oneself slowly becoming an adult.”
— Gene Siskel
One of the great scenes in the movie — living for the “Night Fever”:
Does Dancing With The Stars exist without this groundbreaking scene?
In the Saturday Night Fever songs and beyond, Barry is the dominant voice, with the brothers often singing in falsetto. The Bee Gees remained popular throughout the eighties, as a group as well as songwriting and producing for other musicians.
A Diverse Legacy
The Bee Gees were ambitious, and strove for popularity, perhaps at the expense of lasting art. To me, Robin and Barry appear to have a significant sibling rivalry, and at times share the limelight uncomfortably. After Maurice died, the brothers went their separate way for years, before reuniting for a tour in 2009. Together, between the British pop of the sixties and the disco hits of the seventies, they created a diverse library of music that few achieve. As lyricists, the Gibb brothers are weak when compared to other great songwriters, but their melodies and brotherly harmonies are superb.
I have included twenty-one songs from their catalog, attempting to capture a broad snapshot of their long career.
Bee Gees Songs:
More Than A Woman, Bee Gees ✭✭✭
How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?, Bee Gees ✭✭✭
Night Fever, Bee Gees ✭✭✭
To Love Somebody, Bee Gees ✭✭✭
How Deep Is Your Love, Bee Gees ✭✭
Stayin’ Alive, Bee Gees ✭✭
You Should Be Dancing, Bee Gees ✭✭
Nights On Broadway, Bee Gees ✭✭
Jive Talkin’, Bee Gees ✭✭
New York Mining Disaster 1941, Bee Gees ✭✭
I Started A Joke, Bee Gees ✭✭
I Gotta Get A Message To You, Bee Gees ✭✭
Lonely Days, Bee Gees ✭✭
Wine And Women, Bee Gees ✭
Fanny (Be Tender With My Love), Bee Gees ✭
Massachusetts, Bee Gees ✭
First Of May, Bee Gees ✭
Holiday, Bee Gees ✭
Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Tell You, Bee Gees ✭
Guilty, Bee Gees ✭
Islands In The Stream, Bee Gees ✭
To Love Somebody, The Upsetters ✭✭
Emotion, Samantha Sang ✭
Note: “Guilty” features Barbara Streisand on lead vocal. The most popular version of “Islands In The Stream”, by Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton, is not included in the collection.