Who They Were: Barry, Maurice and Robin were “The Brothers Gibb,” born of English parents on the Isle of Man, emigrants to Australia in childhood, from whence their global pop success unfolded, in various waves, with various soaring highs and crushing lows along the way. The Bee Gees are estimated to have sold at least 120 million albums over their long career run, making them one of the most successful musical acts that the world’s markets have ever known. 1977’s Saturday Night Fever soundtrack marked their commercial high-water mark, but the post-disco backlash against it turned them into loathed caricatures, and they never really recovered, emotionally, creatively, or financially, from that unjust obloquy under their own brand name, though they did have tremendous success in later years as producers and songwriters for other artists, e.g. Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, etc. Twin brothers Maurice and Robin both died before their allotted times (as did younger brother Andy Gibb, who had been officially branded the fourth Bee Gee just before his passing), leaving Barry as the sad sole survivor of his family’s incredible creative business. The 2020 documentary How Can You Mend a Broken Heart provides an outstanding overview of their entire career, and I commend it to you highly, especially if your brain immediately starts doing John Travolta’s “Stayin’ Alive” dance any time you hear the words “Bee Gees.” There’s so much more to their fascinating story, and you owe it to yourself, and to them, to know it.
When I First Heard Them: My dad had the 1969 compilation album Best of Bee Gees on cassette tape (he got into that technology well before most folks did, during his active duty Marine Corps time in Japan), and that tape used to play a lot around our house in its time, so I am guessing that was when and how I first heard them. That great introductory album provided an overview of their earliest pop successes, and also of their stellar original band, which featured Vince Melouney on lead guitar and Colin Peterson on drums; Maurice was the bassist/keyboardist for the group, Barry usually played guitar, and Robin generally restricted himself to vocals. After a fallow commercial period, which included Robin’s brief departure from the group, the Bee Gees re-emerged as superstars on American pop radio around 1975 with the R&B-infused Main Course album and its attendant singles, which also marked the debut of the signature falsetto singing style that defined their commercial apogee, and the emergence of their second great band, with Blue Weaver on keyboards, Alan Kendall on guitar, and Dennis Bryon on drums. I’d have been listening to American Top Forty regularly in those days, rooting for their singles as they climbed the charts, feeling smart that I knew the group’s back story, when most of my friends would have perceived them as some hot new pop item. Saturday Night Fever was utterly ubiquitous during my Mitchel Field years, inspiring both deep affection and deep dismay within my friendly cohort; it wasn’t my favorite of their records, then or now, but I was happy to see them achieve that level of fame, even though the blow-back that followed was painful and sad to endure.
Why I Love Them: In 2012, around the time of Robin’s death, I wrote a post here called I Like The Bee Gees. It remains one of the more regularly-read items on my website all these years on, as I suppose there are a lot of other people out there who may search for that title, proud to admit their love and respect for a group that has received precious little of both attributes in recent decades. I don’t think I can improve on it in terms of tersely answering this question, so I encourage you to click over there to read it before I roll out my top ten favorite songs by the wonderful Gibb men, below.
#10. “Sweet Song of Summer,” from To Whom It May Concern (1972)
#9. “Sinking Ships,” from “Words”/”Sinking Ships” single (1968)
#8. “I.O.I.O.,” from Cucumber Castle (1970)
#7. “I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You,” from “I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You”/”Kitty Can” single (1968)
#6. “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” from Bee Gees 1st (1967)
#5. “Jive Talkin’,” from Main Course (1975)
#4. “Massachusetts,” from Horizontal (1968)
#3. “Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You,” from Bee Gees 1st (1967)
#2. “I Started A Joke,” from Idea (1968)
#1. “Nights on Broadway,” from Main Course (1975)