Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees turns 70

“At one point in 1978, the Gibb brothers were responsible for writing and/or performing nine of the songs in the Billboard Hot 100.”

Robin, Barry, Maurice
Robin, Barry, Maurice

It must be strange being the oldest brother of a musical powerhouse family and be the only one of the men still alive. So is the case with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees.

Barry, his older sister Lesley (later Evans, b. 12 January 1945), his twin brothers Maurice and Robin (b. 22 December 1949) and baby brother Andrew (b. 5 March 1958) were born in the UK. Their father, Hugh Gibb was a drummer and bandleader who married Barbara (Pass); the parents were English.

In the late 1950s, the three older boys formed a band, the Rattlesnakes, just before the family emigrated to Australia, where the boys continued to perform, as Barry was writing songs.

The act continued to develop until they finally had a big hit with their 12th single, Spicks and Specks. They returned to the UK in January 1967, where producer Robert Stigwood began successfully promoting them to a worldwide audience. They had a string of hits.

Success and immaturity broke up the group for a time, but they had another brief spurt of success with Lonely Days.

By 1975, the trio started developing a new sound. With their participation on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, they began to reach their highest commercial impact. “In 1977, they became the first and only songwriters to place five songs in the Top Ten at the same time.”

They wrote not only their own music but songs of many others, including massive hits for little brother Andy. “At one point in 1978, the Gibb brothers were responsible for writing and/or performing nine of the songs in the Billboard Hot 100. In all, the Gibbs [had] 12 [songs] making the Top 40… At least 2,500 artists have recorded their songs.”

The Bee Gees worked through the 1980s, together and apart, with some hits. Singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw: “Even long after the Bee Gees’ success on the pop charts, they were still writing songs for other people, huge hit songs. Their talent went far beyond their moment of normal pop success.”

But they were devastated by the death of little brother Andy (10 March 1988). The band continued working into the 1990s, despite Barry’s severe arthritis, and they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

Maurice died suddenly, from an abdominal blockage, on 12 January 2003. Barry and Robin played sporadically together, until Robin died of pneumonia, triggered from liver cancer, on 20 May 2012, leaving Barry Gibb to keep the Bee Gees flame alive.

And sad news: Barbara Gibb, his mom, died in August 2016.

My 10 favorite Bee Gees songs (maybe)

12. Spicks and Specks (#5 in Australia in 1966) – this shows up on their first Greatest Hits LP, but NOT the CD version. The song was used as the title of an Australian TV show last decade
11. Words (#15 US in 1968)- writer likes words
10. You Should Be Dancing (#1 US in 1976)- yes, I had this lime green leisure suit…
9. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (#1 US for four weeks in 1971) – how indeed?
8. I Can’t See Nobody (B-side of Mining Disaster, #128 in US) – nice harmonies, bad grammar and all
7. New York Mining Disaster 1941 (#14 US in 1967 – the first international hit, and I’m fond of the story-song

6. I’ve Got To Get A Message To You (#8 US in 1968) terribly overdramatic, in a good way
5. To Love Somebody (#17 in 1967) – and the source material for some tremendous covers
4. World (UK, but not US, single, 1967) – I love how it’s soft, then becomes really raucous
3. Stayin’ Alive (#1 US for four weeks)- I went to the Tulip Festival this year, in Washington Park, Albany, and the woman at one of the booths asked what song one should be doing CPR to, and, of course, I knew. But obviously, I had failed The Daughter, who had never heard of the song.
2. Lonely Days (#3 US in 1971) – I always liked this because it keeps changing tempo; very Beatlesque. And there was this rumor that John Lennon sang on it, which proved to be untrue
1. Jive Talkin’ (#1 US for two weeks in 1975) – I LOVE the bass line of this song and the fact that it was the song that signaled the group’s resurgence

And for good measure:
If I Can’t Have You by Yvonne Elliman, #1 in 1978

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