What a family business Bee Gees were. Since forming in 1959, the phenomenal trio have sold well in excess of 220 million albums worldwide and survived huge stylistic changes in music and fashion, as well as personal tragedies that would have scuppered any lesser outfit.
With founding member Barry Gibb still at the helm, news that the band’s 22 studio albums, soundtracks, compilations, unreleased recordings and long-form audio-visual projects have been snapped up by Capitol Records is of huge interest to Bee Gees’ vast fanbase. Within the music business, Barry and his late siblings, Maurice and Robin, are revered: they have been awarded eight Grammy Awards and been inducted into both the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. It all testifies to their incredible achievements as super-sophisticated pop masters who are also responsible for ushering in the age of mass-appeal disco with the 40-million selling Saturday Night Fever album (the best-selling soundtrack of all time), while nine No.1s and 23 Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 also count among their career pinnacles.
Away from the obvious hits including ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, ‘Night Fever’, and ‘Stayin’ Alive’, from Saturday Night Fever, plus ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’, ‘One’, ‘Lonely Days’, ‘Words’, and numerous other classics, there are plenty of surprises, like the rediscovered masterpiece Odessa, alongside many other goodies.
The story starts on the Isle Of Man, then moves to Manchester and Queensland, Australia, as an epic journey for the close-harmony kings gathers momentum. Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb were destined for the pop trade once they formed their young skiffle group, The Rattlesnakes. They cut their professional teeth for real in the tough environs of outer Brisbane, entertaining crowds for pocket money at the Redcliffe Speedway in 1960. They released singles locally, but didn’t reach the big time until returning to England in 1966. Demos passed by Beatles manager Brian Epstein to NEMS executive Robert Stigwood led to a major Polydor deal and hit big with ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’ making the upper reaches of the charts in the UK and US.
‘To Love Somebody’ proved they were no flash in the pan. These were vintage pop days when groups worked tirelessly and prolifically. By 1968, Bee Gees were established stars and strode to the top with ‘Massachusetts’, as well as significant singles such as ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You’, ‘I Started A Joke’ and the progressive ‘First of May’.
Robin’s vibrato was an early hallmark, while Barry’s increasingly front-of-house falsetto, with distinctive R&B depth, set the group apart and made them immediately recognisable. Musically adventurous, their combination of baroque pop, psychedelia and blue-eyed soul were the early imprint for top albums Bee Gees 1st (1967), plus the ensuing Horizontal, Idea and Odessa – all produced by Stigwood. The latter album didn’t create the impact one might have expected at the time, but is now considered to be a gem; the 2009 deluxe three-disc set is particularly commended. Operatic, anthemic and occasionally off the wall, Odessa is one of those albums everyone should hear. The fans already know it’s great, but everyone else is in for a massive surprise.
Robin then left the group – albeit briefly – but Cucumber Castle, their first release of the 70s, saw Barry and Maurice now hands-on in the studio. Always eager to embrace the emerging technology, Bee Gees again added orchestration to 2 Years On (their second album of 1970), and were ahead of the game with their embrace of Mellotron and ever more complex harmonies. Following in September 1971, Trafalgar is another must-hear and contains the group’s first US No.1 ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’.
Still keeping everything original, To Whom It May Concern and the LA production Life In A Tin Can (with a distinct country atmosphere provided by Sneaky Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel) signalled a more American approach that 1974’s Arif Mardin-produced Mr Natural hammered home. Note the introduction of harder R&B and funk here, before the group embraced a much darker sound on 1975’s Main Course, which was recorded in New York and, at Eric Clapton’s suggestion, Miami’s Criteria Studios.
This is really where a new Bee Gees era dawned. The classic ‘Jive Talkin’’, ‘Nights On Broadway’ and the complex ‘Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)’ were groundbreaking productions with amazing vocals, funky guitars and synths, finally giving the lie to any notion that these guys were just a pop group. This is soul music by any standards.
The disco explosion had taken a grip and ‘You Should Be Dancing’ (from Children Of The World) topped both the Hot Dance Club Play chart and the Billboard Hot 100. It was also the Launch pad for their massive contribution to Saturday Night Fever’s soundtrack, where the group bossed the joint thanks to ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, ‘Night Fever’, ‘More Than A Woman’ and the reactivated ‘Jive Talkin’’. Effectively the blueprint for commercial disco, these tracks also and ensured that a low-budget B-movie became one of the best-loved cinematic events of the decade – and went way beyond, continuing to exert a cult grip. Topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and around Europe, this album exceeded all normal standards of what is hip.
1979’s Spirits Having Flown is marked by a record-breaking run of No.1 hits, since ‘Too Much Heaven’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Love You Inside Out’ ensured the Gibb brothers’ position as the premier pop-soul group on the planet. During this notable period, Barry also produced the Shadow Dancing album for young brother Andy, and wrote the title song for the film Grease, which is performed in the film by Frankie Valli – a spiritual mentor in many ways.
Released that same year, the self-explanatory Bee Gees Greatest laid down another benchmark. The comeback was on, and a laid down a marker during their all-conquering era of 1975-79. Not content to rely on a formula, however, they changed tack again with 1981’s Living Eyes, perhaps sensing that the disco boom was on the wane. There was a hiatus before 1987’s ESP, but no drop in standards judging by the hit ‘You Win Again’, which did the business in Europe despite a perceived disco backlash. Now utilising programming, more synths and heavily layered keyboards, Bee Gees also had to deal with the death of brother Andy Gibb and dedicated their 18th album, 1989’s One, to his memory.
Bee Gees opened the 90s with Tales From The Brothers Gibb, an early example of the comprehensive, career-spanning box set, which was still unusual in 1990 but served as a useful reminder of the group’s legacy. With their first new album of the decade, 1991’s High Civilization, the group once again upped their game, returning to Miami to add a modern dance feel to the slick funk of their vintage years.
Sometimes overlooked, 1993’s Size Isn’t Everything includes that classic ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, something of a nod back at their earlier style, while 1997’s Still Waters and the triumphant 1998’ live album, One Night Only, recorded at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, kept the group’s repertoire fresh and honest.
Issued via Polydor/Universal in 2001, the final Bee Gees album, This Is Where I Came In, includes that classic moment ‘Sacred Trust’, originally a song from a 1998 Miami Beach session, and later brought into the nation’s homes thanks to a No.2 single release by Popstars: The Rivals TV group One True Voice.
The following year, Maurice passed away and a chapter was closed. In 2012, Robin Hugh Gibb’s death caused a new outpouring of grief and served to remind us what a marvellous act Bee Gees were. The Who’s Roger Daltrey summed Robin up wonderfully well: “A lovely, lovely guy. I hear everyone talking about the success of their career but I haven’t heard many talk about him as a singer and I used to think he was one of the best. To me, singing is about moving people, and Robin’s voice had something about it that could move me and, I’m sure, millions of others. It was almost like his heart was on the outside.” Star of Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta recalled, “I thought Robin was one of the most wonderful people, gifted, generous and a real friend to everyone he knew. And we’ll miss him.”
His first new release since This Is Where I Came In, Barry Gibb’s solo album, In The Now, surfaced in 2016 and was given extra impetus by his performance at Glastonbury, with Coldplay, where he guested on versions of ‘To Love Somebody’ and ‘Stayin’ Alive’ which lit up the main stage.
Away from the accolades, the honours – including CBEs – and the staggering sales, Bee Gees have brought great joy and harmony, with so many songs capturing differing eras. They were, and remain, a classic pop group – and then some. That was some journey from the Isle Of Man to the very pinnacle of artistic success. In 2010, their achievements were chronicled on the aptly titled four-disc box set Mythology – and that seems certain to blossom now. Bee Gees fans, so many of therm, can look forward to the future. They win again.
The debut international long-player by the Bee Gees may shock anyone who only remembers them for their mid- to late-'70s disco mega-hits, or their quirky early-'70s romantic balladry. Up until 1966, they'd shown a penchant for melodic songs and rich, high harmonies, in the process becoming Australia's answer to the Everly Brothers. When the Bee Gees arrived in London late in 1966, however, they proved quick studies in absorbing and assimilating the progressive pop and rock sounds around them. In one fell swoop, they became competitors with the likes of veteran rock bands such as the Hollies and the Tremeloes, and this long-player, Bee Gees' 1st, is more of a rock album than the group usually got credit for generating. Parts of it do sound very much like the Beatles circa Revolver, but there was far more to their sound than that. The three hits off of Bee Gees' 1st, "To Love Somebody," "New York Mining Disaster 1941," and "Holiday," were gorgeous but relatively somber, thus giving Bee Gees' 1st a melancholy cast, but much of the rest is relatively upbeat psychedelic pop. "In My Own Time" may echo elements of the Beatles' "Dr. Robert" and "Taxman," but it's difficult to dislike a song with such delicious rhythm guitars and a great beat, coupled with the trio's soaring harmonies; "Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You" was close in spirit to the Moody Blues of this era, opening with a Gregorian chant backed by a Mellotron, before breaking into a strangely spaced-out, psychedelic main song body. Robin Gibb's lead vocals veered toward the melodramatic and poignant, and the orchestra did dress up some of the songs a little sweetly, yet overall the group presented themselves as a proficient rock ensemble who'd filled their debut album with a full set of solid, refreshingly original songs. Words: Bruce Eder
The group's second album, cut late in 1967 amid their first major British success, is less focused than their first, but also presents a more majestic sound than its predecessor. The opening track, "World," is a poignant, even somber yet gorgeous ballad filled with clever lyrics, and highlighted by a quavering Mellotron accompaniment, a very close grand piano sound (anticipating elements of the Odessa album), and twangy fuzz-tone guitar. "And the Sun Will Shine" is an even more serious, regretful ballad that is bearable because it is also prettier than "World." The enigmatically titled "Lemons Never Forget" breaks up the mood with a harder rocking sound, just the group without any orchestra, dominated by a pounding piano and volume-pedal guitar. The most interesting aspect of "Really and Sincerely" -- a song that descends into an even more emotionally melodramatic mood than "And the Sun Will Shine" -- is its opening, which contains a musical phrase that seems to anticipate the group's disco-era "Nights on Broadway." "Birdie Told Me" is another tale of lost love that offers the variety of some leaner and tasteful electric guitar accompaniment. Side two of the original LP was more upbeat, opening with the group's catchy chart-topping British hit, "Massachusetts," followed by the cheerful "Harry Braff." "The Earnest of Being George" and "The Change Is Made" are attempts at a harder rock sound, featuring heavy guitar on both and an attempt at bluesy feel on the latter, while the title track is a trippy psychedelic number that closes the album on an upbeat note. Words: Bruce Eder
The Bee Gees' third album is something of a departure, with more of a rocking sound and with the orchestra (apart from a few well-placed harp arpeggios) somewhat less prominent in the sound mix than on their first two LPs. The two hits, "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" and "I Started a Joke," are very much of a piece with their earlier work, but on "Kitty Can," "Indian Gin and Whisky Dry," and "Such a Shame" (the latter written by the group's then lead guitarist, Vince Melouney), among other cuts, they sound much more like a working band with a cohesive group sound, rather than a harmony vocal group with accompaniment. Their writing still has a tendency toward the dramatic and the melodramatic, which would manifest itself prominently again on their next album, Odessa, six months later, but here the group seemed to be trying for a somewhat less moody, dark-toned overall sound, and some less surreal lyrical conceits, though "Kilburn Towers" (despite some pop-jazz inflections) and "Swan Song," as well as "I Started a Joke," retain elements of fantasy and profundity. Words: Bruce Eder
The group members may disagree for personal reasons, but Odessa is easily the best and most enduring of the Bee Gees' albums of the 1960s. It was also their most improbable success, owing to the conflicts behind its making. The project started out as a concept album to be called "Masterpeace" and then "The American Opera," but musical differences between Barry and Robin Gibb that would split the trio in two also forced the abandonment of the underlying concept. Instead, it became a double LP -- largely at the behest of their manager and the record labels; oddly enough, given that the group didn't plan on doing something that ambitious, Odessa is one of perhaps three double albums of the entire decade (the others being Blonde on Blonde and The Beatles) that don't seem stretched, and it also served as the group's most densely orchestrated album. Yet amid the progressive rock sounds of the title track and ethereal ballads such as "Melody Fair" and "Lamplight" were country-flavored tunes like "Marlery Purt Drive" and the vaguely Dylanesque bluegrass number "Give Your Best," delicate pop ballads like "First of May" (which became the single off the album), and strange, offbeat rock numbers like "Edison" (whose introduction sounds like the Bee Gees parodying Cream's "White Room"), and "Whisper Whisper" (the latter featuring a drum break, no less), interspersed with three heavily orchestrated instrumentals. Even the seeming "lesser" numbers such as "Suddenly" had catchy hooks and engaging acoustic guitar parts to carry them, all reminiscent of the Moody Blues' album cuts of the same era. Moreover, the title track, with its mix of acoustic guitar, solo cello, and full orchestra, was worthy of the Moody Blues at their boldest. The myriad sounds and textures made Odessa the most complex and challenging album in the group's history, and if one accepts the notion of the Bee Gees as successors to the Beatles, then Odessa was arguably their Sgt. Pepper's. The album was originally packaged in a red felt cover with gold lettering on front and back and an elaborate background painting for the gatefold interior, which made it a conversation piece. Words: Bruce Eder
An overlooked work in the Brothers Gibb catalog, Cucumber Castle is an excellent album that plays to the Bee Gees' strengths of melody, arrangement, and craftsmanship. Though at times one may miss the distinctive trembling vocals of Robin Gibb (the brothers had split up at this point), Barry and Maurice carry on with 12 cuts that continue in the tradition of their distinctive pop sound. Orchestral arrangements and Mellotrons abound, and the sound tends toward full productions, especially in "Then You Left Me" and "I Lay Down and Die." One can also hear country influences ("Sweetheart"), gospel ("Bury Me Down by the River"), and light jazz ("My Thing"). What sets this album above others is that there is not a bad cut on the album, and Barry's vocals are particularly strong and heartfelt. Although most of the cuts deal with the usual subject of love and particularly love lost, superb eye for detail in the arrangements of the songs give them added life. Adding a few songs with classic singalong melodies ("Sweetheart" and "Don't Forget to Remember") certainly doesn't hurt the cause. All in all, this is a fine album that cements the Brothers Gibb's reputation as superior pop songwriters and craftsmen. Words: Michael Ofjord
The Bee Gees split apart in the wake of a dispute regarding the single to be released from their album Odessa, spent a year with Barry and Maurice Gibb recording together (and doing a television special) while Robin Gibb cut music on his own, and fighting a lawsuit in which their ex-drummer tried to claim the name "the Bee Gees." Finally, they regrouped with 2 Years On and surprised everyone with their biggest selling single to date, "Lonely Days," and a surprisingly hard-edged accompanying album, on which the supposed Beatles influences of their earlier days were pushed aside (it also didn't hurt that the Beatles were now history). The music is somewhat less fey and more progressive here, and at times they sound like a lighter-weight version of the Moody Blues of the same era, with sharper vocals. The surprises on this album, apart from the overall tone and quality, include the sprightly title track, which was one of the first Bee Gees songs to feature surreal lyrics that weren't downbeat, and "Back Home," with the loudest guitar ever heard on a Bee Gees record. The quality of the recording itself was also improved over their earlier releases, with a much wider range and less compression, and between that and the song selection, the Bee Gees suddenly found themselves right back in the thick of popular music, and as close to the cutting edge of pop/rock as they'd ever been. Words: Bruce Eder
The Bee Gees had entered the early '70s with a roaring success in the guise of "Lonely Days" and its accompanying album, which established their sound as a softer pop variant on the Moody Blues' brand of progressive rock. Trafalgar, which followed, carried the process further on what was their longest single LP release, clocking in at 47 minutes. The music all sounded meaningful, much of it displaying the same kind of faux-grandeur that the Moody Blues affected on their music of this era, the core group (playing pretty hard) acompanied by either Mellotron-generated orchestra or the real thing, with the group's soaring harmonies and Robin Gibb's quavaring lead vocals all over the place. As with 2 Years On's "Man for All Seasons," there was also one title ("Lion in Winter," featuring a startling falsetto performance) lifted from a recently popular film and play having to do with English history. It was all very beautifully produced and, propelled into record-store racks by the presence of "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," the group's first No. 1 single, Trafalgar shipped very well initially. Nothing else on the record was remotely as memorable as the single, however, and its sales were limited. Trafalgar was also the handsomest and most elaborately designed of their albums, its cover reprinting Pocock's painting "The Battle of Trafalgar" and the interior gatefold containing a shot of the brothers enacting the scene of the death of Lord Nelson. It all imparted the sense of a concept album, though nothing in the music said so, except perhaps the finale, "Walking Back to Waterloo." Despite the hit single, the album showed the limits of the Bee Gees' talents as songwriters and of their appeal as album artists. Words: Bruce Eder
The next to last of the Bee Gee's "old-style" albums is one of their most fully realized works, with pleasing and memorable songs from beginning to end, and for a change this time, it's the single ("Run to Me"), rather than the surrounding tracks, that suffers from predictability. Another in a string of haunting ballads, it has a more plaintive, whining quality, and less of an ethereal feel than its predecessor, "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" -- not that "Run to Me" isn't a lovely song, but it was possible to tire of hearing it on the radio faster than their prior singles. By contrast, the album's other tracks are all intensely melodic and varied enough in tempo and texture to make for very satisfying listening, "You Know It's for You" calling to mind Paul McCartney at his most accessible; the group plunges into relatively hard rock, with a heavy guitar sound, on "Bad Bad Dreams," and a country-ish sound on "Road to Alaska," before returning to a kind of post-psychedelic mode in "Sweet Song of Summer." The Bee Gees were pushing their credibility as a cohesive band more than ever, emphasizing Barry Gibb and Maurice Gibb's contributions to their instrumental sound and retaining guitarist Alan Kendall, who had debuted with them on the Trafalgar album and who would play with them for the next two decades. As it turned out, To Whom It May Concern was also the commercial swan song for the trio in this phase of their career, and the last of their albums to be released by Atlantic Records in the United States, something of an artistic peak before a period of massive change in their sound and future. Words: Bruce Eder
The Bee Gees are persistent and they work hard for the money, carefully cloning current fashion with Size Isn't Everything. You can just hear them saying, "We did disco, we can do hip-hop," and you can hear them try on "Paying the Price of Love," with its heavy percussion track. Words: William Ruhlmann
As if they finally realized that they couldn't quite compete with contemporary musical fashions any more, the Bee Gees moved firmly into "mature" territory with Still Waters. However, they are canny enough to realize that they shouldn't abandon the frothy disco that made them superstars in the late '70s -- they should merely temper it with measured rhythms and tasteful melodies. Consequently, nothing on Still Waters is infectious, but it is pleasant, and while only a handful of singles stand out -- "I Could Not Love You More" is a sweet ballad -- it is still a fine, professional effort from these consummate professionals. Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
There is a reason why the Bee Gees have been around for decades, successfully making music -- they are innovative craftsmen, who have carved out and maintain a signature sound, while having the ability to adapt to the times that they find themselves composing in. The Bee Gees -- brothers Maurice, Barry, and Robin Gibb -- are profoundly creative and have a gift for writing good songs, whether they are radio friendly (usually the case) or a bit off the beaten path. The Gibbs see music as if viewed through a kaleidoscope. The result is magical, tuneful, and colorful music -- with a mainstream sensibility. That said, on their 28th studio album, This Is Where I Came In, the Bee Gees, again, inspire audiences with their ability to make music that is fresh, yet familiar, and ahead of their peers in terms of sound, song structure, and style. The album's title and opening song instantly recalls the Beatles in their later years, and combines late-'60s British rock with crafty funk guitar playing. It's no wonder, too; according to the album's accompanying press, Maurice Gibb plays an acoustic guitar given to him by John Lennon on this song. The Bee Gees offer a nod to other musicians, as well, such as the Talking Heads and the Kinks on "She Keeps on Coming," which is an entirely jubilant listen. Audiences looking for that classic light and airy Bee Gees sound will best find it on the tracks "Loose Talk Costs Lives," "Sacred Trust," and "Wedding Day," all a wonderful tribute to the types of songs that established them as pop culture icons. Edgier fare is found on the urgent "Voice in the Wilderness," with its contemporary electronica and warbled guitar sounds, and "Déjà Vu," which is rich in slick hooks and crafty sound bites. Not many musicians could pull off placing a Dixieland-style song on an album in 2001. However, this is the Bee Gees, and not only does "Technicolor Dreams" work, but it is arguably the best song on the album. With its toe-tapping, enchanting clarinet solo and charming lyrics, "Technicolor Dreams" personifies how music is seen through the eyes of a Gibb. And listeners are fortunate for this Bee Gees-eye view. Words: Liana Jonas