“You Win Again,” a global hit that sparked a Bee Gees revival in the late 1980s, contained one of the band’s catchiest melodies – one that supposedly came to Barry Gibb in a dream. “Some of my best grooves usually come in the night, in a dream, so I keep a little recorder nearby,” he told the BBC in 2016. “The chorus of ‘You Win Again’ came that way, but I didn’t have the recorder, so I had to run around the house and find something, because like a dream those things will disappear. You have to catch them.”
When Barry told his brothers Maurice and Robin about his chorus, they immediately got together to write lyrics to accompany the tune, about a man losing “a battle of love.” “We had no idea how it might turn out as a song. It ended up as a big demo in my garage,” Maurice recalled in 2001. In the end, they chose the title “You Win Again,” even though it was the same as the Hank Williams classic from 1952. (Robin claimed he had not heard that song and was more worried that the title was too close to the Hot Chocolate hit “So You Win Again” from 1977.)
For the song, the Bee Gees reunited with producer Arif Mardin – a man who engineered and produced an incredible array of classic records from artists such as Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Diana Ross, and Barbra Streisand – who said that he was “inspired” by working again with such “incredible singers.”
When the band worked on a demo of the song in Maurice’s garage, they went for what Maurice called the distinctive “stomps” at the start. The group retained the steady, pounding opening beat for the final recording of the track at the Middle Ear studio in Miami Beach, with a new drum program devised by Maurice and celebrated producer Rhett Lawrence. “As soon as you hear that ‘jabba-doomba, jabba-doomba’ on the radio, you know it’s us. It’s a signal. So, that’s one little secret – give people an automatic identification of who it is,” explained Maurice.
All three brothers sang on “You Win Again” (Barry also played guitar and Maurice was on keyboards) and Robbie Kondor was featured on keyboards and synthesizer bass. Robin recalled that the brothers were so convinced that this was going to be a huge hit that they spent a month recording it and re-mixing it (including at Criteria Studios in Miami) to try to get it as perfect as possible, despite problems with the technology of the time. They used a 32-track recorder that Mardin described as “very, very brittle” and, in the final version, the song was sped up, raising it about a quarter tone, to improve the sound.
“You Win Again” was released on September 7, 1987, as the lead single from their studio album E.S.P., and it quickly climbed to the top of the UK charts, making the Bee Gees the first band to score a No.1 hit in each of the three decades, the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
It was the band’s first hit single in eight years. Although it did well throughout Europe, the lack of radio play in America impacted sales and the single never went higher than No. 75 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Nevertheless, the emotive lyrics (“you win again, so little time, we do nothing but compete”) struck a chord with the public and helped the Gibb brothers win the prestigious 1987 British Academy Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.