B is for the Bee Gees

The Bee Gees were worthy additions to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

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 B-sides, and this oddity called Spicks and Specks [LISTEN].

It was only later that I discovered that the 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 couple 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.”


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

31 thoughts on “B is for the Bee Gees”

  1. Oh I had this album – my favourite track was “First of May” from Cucumber Castle – another ultimate favourite Bee Gees album. The memories flood back from my teenage years.

  2. Really interesting choice for “B” week!. I was never a huge fan, their ‘sound’ just didn’t do it for me. But what a sad story…

    Have a great week!

  3. Good historical information. How sad that Barry was estranged from his BROTHERS; often the remorse that follows is too late, tho. Kate, ABC Team

  4. I was a HUGE fan of the Bee Gees, but never knew that Barry had been estranged from all of his brothers. So sad – I always tell my daughters that when I’m gone, they will really only have each other as family, so stay friends. Even though my sisters and I are totally different (& sometimes dislike each other for various reasons) we always remember that we’re family. Anyway, the Bee Gees’ music was fabulous and for each one of those songs you mention, I heard them in my mind.

    abcw team

  5. Thanks for the interesting info on the Bee Gees.
    Now I’m going to be hearing Staying Alive in my head all day!
    I guess fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Seems to be much sadness attached to it.

  6. My older brothers loved them and one of them bought albums, yeah the big ones. They would listen to them constantly so I knew their songs and later on also fell in love with their music.

  7. Although I never bought an album I liked their songs! Good choice! Thanks for taking care of entering my posts in ABC Wednesday, Roger. This is my last day on Australia. It was worthwhile beibg here in spite of the heat and the mozzies!

  8. Barry was estranged from his brothers when they died? Oh… sad, but I so love the Bee Gees! I remember wishing they’d come to Asia.

  9. My favorite Bee Gees song seems to change about every other year. Early on, it was “To Love Somebody”; “I Started a Joke” supplanted it; for the moment, it’s “Love You Inside Out,” although I reserve the right to change my mind in case “Nights on Broadway” comes up on the shuffle.

  10. I had that album and loved the BeeGees (okay still do!) Thanks for the history of them – some I did not know. Great post!

  11. I really enjoyed listening to the Bee Gees and I think we still have an album. It’s so sad the brothers were estranged, seems like this has happened to often to other groups.

  12. I know the Bee Gees through my children – I was too busy bringing up a young family when they were around, and I really appreciate being brought up to date on their history and music, – thank you Roger.

  13. I heard about the Bee Gees, a little, since I grew up in Mexico. But around 2 years ago, my kids found the song Staying Alive on You Tube and used to play it a lot. They thought their voices were interesting. Great post! Now I know more about them.

  14. I love the Bee Gees. They had winded down when I was a little kid, and I only knew them as a disco band until I was an adult. Then I suddenly heard “To Love Somebody” and thought, wow, I need to get to know this band. Now they’re all over my iPod. Spirits Having Flown is kind of the end point for me, honestly; that and the Barbra Streisand album that Barry produced. Every time “Nights on Broadway” comes up on my shuffle, I just smile and smile and smile…

  15. I’d forgotten how they looked in their youth on the album cover, a nice reminder rather than the image of the gaunt figure Robin became in the end. The Saturday Night Fever film tracks must be up there with the best.

  16. I always thought of the Bee Gees as “Disco pap”, until I rewatched Saturday Night Fever some years ago and discovered what an amazing film it is — not the Disco cheese we often assume it is, but one of the bleakest portraits of youth life in the city that I know. And their music is the backbone of that film. Since then, I love them and can’t imagine not listening to them. “How Deep Is Your Love” is one of the most beautiful songs ever, in my opinion.

  17. I guess it just tells you how old we are, but I just loved the BeeGees! I didn’t care so much for the disco stuff but the other songs you mention are still favorites.

  18. When I was a kid, my father used to play a lot of Bee Gees songs. I’m sure he still keeps the albums and the old player.

  19. Since I am of a slightly younger generation, I have not listened to them until now. Just about to check them out after reading this post.

    It’s a pity when we get estranged from siblings only to regret it later on.

  20. On a trip to England in 1981, several times I heard sneering references to “The Gibb Sisters.” I assume that referred to the falsettos, but why the condescension I’m not quite sure.

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