With career sales estimated to be north of 220 million records, the Bee Gees have spanned several pop generations, shaping major genre shifts and influencing artists across a vast range of styles. Quite simply they are up there with the greatest bands, and songwriting partnerships, of all-time.
It’s half a century since their first international success, which prompts us to present the Bee Gees In 20 Songs. We’ve done many of these tributes to great artists, but few have given us as much pleasure as putting together this musical autobiography.
Listen to the Bee Gees In 20 Songs playlist:
From the outset, we should say that a second list of 20 would have been just as easy to draw from the Gibb brothers’ shimmering songbook, and a third from the countless hits they’ve custom-written for other stars. But this primer, overflowing with classics, sets out just some of the unforgettable music they made during a 30-year chart period.
The only way to start is with one of the most arresting debut hits to start any international career, 1967’s ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941.’ The courageously stark narrative gave Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb a first top 20 hit in both the UK and US in early summer that year, when they were literally just off the boat and back in their home country of England after making their name and honing their skills in Australia.
What followed in the next few years was an extraordinary introductory run of success, often with songs so powerful that they became anthemic both for the Bee Gees and for those who covered them. ‘To Love Somebody’ went on to be a staple for Nina Simone, ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’ was turned into a soul gem by Al Green and ‘Words’ became a favourite of Elvis Presley‘s, among many other covers.
Often, songs that were big for them in the UK didn’t do so well in America, and vice versa. The country-influenced ‘Don’t Forget To Remember Me’ reached No. 2 at home, but No. 73 in the US; the aforementioned ‘How Can You Mend’ gave them their first American No. 1, but inexplicably missed the UK chart altogether.
The group made other fine singles during the early ’70s including such British hits as ‘My World’ and ‘Run To Me’ which, sadly, we’ll have to save for that second playlist. There were a number of impressive albums, too, during what’s seen as their “twilight” period when their career seemed to be declining, such as 1974’s Mr. Natural. But then came the rebirth.
The Bee Gees’ relationship with disco began in the masterful hands of producer Arif Mardin, with the innovative and invigorating ‘Jive Talkin’.’ The next chapter, you hardly need telling, represented success at fever pitch. The history-rewriting success of the Saturday Night Fever era made them world champions in a way that neither they nor anyone could ever have conceived.
When the trio emerged from the Fever phenomenon of ‘Stayin’ Alive,’ ‘Night Fever’ et al., the gigantic hits kept coming, represented here by signature pieces such as ‘Too Much Heaven’ and ‘Tragedy.’ Then, as the pendulum swung again, 1987 gave them a new UK chart-topper with a song that, perversely, peaked at No. 75 in the US, ‘You Win Again.’ They reached the UK top 20 as a group for the final time to date with a song appropriately titled to sum up their incredible durability in the annals of pop, ‘This Is Where I Came In.’
Follow the official Bee Gees Best Of playlist.