When I was a teenager, my sister had this album Best of Bee Gees, with all of the early hits, such as I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You [LISTEN], To Love Somebody [LISTEN], and what I thought was their first hit, in 1967, New York Mining Disaster 1941 [LISTEN], plus a couple of B-sides, and this oddity called Spicks and Specks [LISTEN].
It was only later that I discovered that Barry Gibb (b. 1946), and his twin brothers, Maurice and Robin (b. 1949) had moved with their family, including baby brother Andy (b. 1958), from England to Australia in 1958, where they would achieve some musical achievements; Spicks and Specks went Top 10 in the Netherlands, the UK, and Australia, and went to #1 in New Zealand in 1966. Their return to the UK the next year led to true international stardom.
The brothers had even greater success in the early 1970s with their first #1 hit, How Do You Mend a Lonely Heart [LISTEN], and Lonely Days [WATCH], which it was rumored at the time featured John Lennon; it did not. But then the group then went into a commercial slump for a few years until the music went into a new direction: disco. Jive Talkin’ [LISTEN] (1975) and You Should Be Dancing [LISTEN] (1976) both went to #1, but that was just a foretaste of what was to come.
The Bee Gees were assigned to do the music for the movie Saturday Night Fever. They racked up three more #1 singles – How Deep Is Your Love, Stayin’ Alive [LISTEN], and Night Fever. Plus, they also wrote hits for Tavares – More Than a Woman – and Yvonne Elliman – If I Can’t Have You, which went to #1. I remember taking a lot of grief for owning a disco album, but LOTS of people owned this collection. In the US alone, it sold over 15 million copies. “The album stayed atop the album charts for 24 straight weeks from January to July 1978 and stayed on Billboard’s album charts for 120 weeks until March 1980.”
Their follow-up album, Spirits Have Flown, included three more #1 hits, but I never bought it, or indeed any of their subsequent music until I finally picked up a career retrospective. I only have their Sgt. Pepper movie soundtrack because it was given to me. Still, the Bee Gees were worthy additions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Their HoF citation reads, “Only Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks, and Paul McCartney have outsold the Bee Gees.”
Unfortunately, Andy Gibb, who also had a string of hits, mostly written and produced by his brothers, died in 1988 of heart failure at the age of 30. Maurice succumbed to cardiac arrest in 2003 at the age of 53, “while waiting to undergo surgery for a twisted intestine.” Robin, who was the lead vocalist for most of the earlier hits, died in 2012 at the age of 62 from liver and kidney failure.
Only Barry, the eldest, whose falsetto voice defined the later hits, survives, and he noted sadly that he was estranged from each of his brothers when they died. Barry, incidentally, has, as a songwriter, #1 songs in each decade from the 1960s through the 2000s, and is listed in the Guinness World Records “as the second most successful songwriter in history behind Paul McCartney.”