Personalities | The Bee Gees | Seventies | Rock

By adapting their songwriting and sublime harmonies to different trends over four decades, The Bee Gees have maintained a hugely successful and lucrative career. The three eldest Gibb brothers – Barry (born 1 September 1947) and twins Robin and Maurice (born 22 December 1949, died 12 January 2003) – moved to Australia with their parents in 1958. They started performing as an Everly Brothers-style harmony act in 1960 and landed a weekly spot on a TV show.

Distinctive Harmonies

Over the next five years they released two albums and a dozen singles but when they finally achieved an Australian No. 1 in 1967 they were already on a boat to the UK to re-start their career. They signed with fellow-Australian manager Robert Stigwood, an executive with Brian Epstein at NEMS Enterprises, and their first single, the distinctively high-pitched narrative ballad ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’, was a Top 20 hit in the UK and the US. It was the first of 10 hits over the next two years including ‘To Love Somebody’ and ‘Massachusetts’ (1967), ‘Words’ and ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You’ (1968), and ‘First Of May’ and ‘Don’t Forget To Remember’ (1969). They also had hit albums with Bee Gees’ First (1967) and Idea (1968). Their clean image was at odds with the rock revolution happening around them but their quality songs were irresistible, and these were covered by Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Janis Joplin and Elvis Presley.

Cracks in their smiling façade had begun to show by 1969. Amid reports of fraternal strife, Robin was hospitalized with nervous exhaustion and quit after the progressive sounding Odessa (1969), prompting legal action from Stigwood. His first solo single, the lush ‘Saved By The Bell’, was a No. 2 UK hit, but then his and the remaining Bee Gees’ chart career declined and Barry and Maurice both worked on solo projects.

The trio reunited in 1971 and, although their popularity had waned badly in the UK, they scored two million-selling US hits that year with ‘Lonely Days’ and ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’, which was No. 1 for four weeks. But it was a brief revival and their career hit the doldrums until Stigwood paired them with producer Arif Mardin who put the funk into their falsetto on Main Course (1975). The result was an astonishing turnaround as they latched on to the rising disco boom with ‘Jive Talkin’’, which topped the US charts for two weeks, and ‘Nights On Broadway’. The singles also revived their UK fortunes. More hits followed from Children Of The World (1976) with ‘You Should Be Dancing’ (another US No. 1) and ‘Love So Right’.

Staying Alive

The coup de grace came in 1977 when Stigwood got The Bee Gees to write half a dozen songs for a film he was producing called Saturday Night Fever, starring the little-known John Travolta. The soundtrack (1978) topped the US charts for 24 weeks and the UK charts for 18...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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