It’s rather hard to imagine now, but the brothers Gibb recorded for many years in their adopted home of Australia before the release of their first international album, 1967’s Bee Gees’ 1st.
Their first single, “The Battle of the Blue and the Grey,” came out in 1963 and their first two LPs for Australian labels followed, with 1965’s The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs, and Spicks and Specks the next year. But after their return to their native UK in January 1967 and their new representation by the tenacious entrepreneur Robert Stigwood, this memorable year in pop history would assume huge significance for Barry, Maurice, and Robin. By March, they were in IBC Studios at Portland Place in London, almost next door to the BBC, to start recording 14 new songs written by Barry and Robin Gibb in a contemporary, sometimes psychedelic pop style. Along for the ride? Drummer Colin Petersen and lead guitarist Vince Melouney, who had recently become full-fledged members of the band.
The album, released in the UK on July 14, included the single with which they had made an arresting singles chart debut in March, the haunting “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” The song’s combination of a catchy melody and a stark vocal delivery took a while to catch on, with a first appearance at a modest No.43, but the song went on to spend five weeks in the Top 20, peaking at No.12 at the end of May.
What’s not always remembered is that the follow-up single, also included on 1st and long regarded as an absolute Bee Gees classic, was not a major UK hit. “To Love Somebody” charted just as the album was being released, and spent a month grappling up the bottom ten of the then 50-position countdown, but peaked at No.41. It took Nina Simone’s superb 1969 cover to make it a Top 5 hit in Britain.
Nevertheless, as Bee Gees 1st emerged, the group were being hailed in media circles as the new Beatles, especially given their modern pop sensibilities in the era of Sgt. Pepper. The album included such Summer Of Love-friendly compositions as “Red Chair, Fade Away” and the religiously-influenced “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You.” Those sat comfortably alongside more traditional, stylishly orchestrated numbers such as “One Minute Woman” and “I Can’t See Nobody.”
What all 14 tracks had in common was that rigorous attention to songcraft that would become the trademark of the Gibb brothers for decades to come. By September, their UK singles chart fortunes were restored, as the anthemic “Massachusetts” started its climb towards an entire month at No.1. It wasn’t on the debut album, but now the Bee Gees were an undeniable force to be reckoned with.
As “Massachusetts” gently descended the chart, their next hit “World” passed it en route to the Top 10. Those two quickfire smash hits were the catalyst for the album’s belated improved profile. It had entered at No.34 in August, and would achieve a long, unbroken run of 26 weeks in the Top 40, but the LP didn’t reach its No.8 peak until November. Now, the Bee Gees were an almost constant presence as a major group on both the singles and albums scene.