The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

How can you stop the rain from falling down?

How Can You Mend a Broken HeartBarry Gibb says he can’t watch the entirety of the documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. He told CBS News’ Anthony Mason, “I think it’s perfectly normal to not want to see how each brother was lost, you know?”

But you should. I saw it on HBO last month. The film was directed by Frank Marshall.

This is the story of Barry (b. 1946) and his fraternal twin brothers Robin and Maurice (b. 1949), who lived in Manchester, England. They were more like triplets, Barry said, listening to the same music and by 1955, singing together. The family moved to Queensland, Australia, where they achieved their first chart success with Spicks and Specks, their 12th single.

They returned to the UK in January 1967. Producer Robert Stigwood began promoting them to a worldwide audience. They wrote and sang a series of hits, including To Love Somebody, Words, Massachusetts, and I’ve Got To Get a Message to You. But fame is not forever, and their excess lifestyles caused division in the trio.

461 Ocean Boulevard

A change in venues, to Miami, and the right compatriots, got them back on track. In fact, they lived at the same location that Eric Clapton had stayed when he created his “comeback” album, 461 Ocean Boulevard.

They created the Main Course collection, with the hit Jive Talking. Then the enormous, and unexpected success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. And, coming along as a complementary artist, was baby brother, Andy Gibb (b. 1958), with hits of his own.

As dance music was co-opted, and pale imitations of it were created – think Disco Duck – a backlash ensued. It was epitomized by Disco Demolition Night, a Major League Baseball promotion on Thursday, July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago.

One of the ushers recalled that there were LPs of several non-disco black artists, such as Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder among the recording to be destroyed. The fans rioted during the event, and the White Sox ended up having to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader.

This time of changing fortunes, the brothers were able to pivot to becoming primarily songwriters, for Barbra, Celine, Diana, Dionne, Dolly, and Kenny, among others. This allowed them room to reach their next act in their careers. It was supposed to be with Andy Gibb as an official member of the Bee Gees. Unfortunately, he died on 10 March 1988, at the age of 30, as a result of an inflammation of the heart muscle.

Barry, by himself

Then Maurice, the chief negotiator between Barry and Robin, died unexpectedly on 12 January 2003, at the age of 53. He suffered a heart attack while awaiting emergency surgery to repair a strangulated intestine.

The surviving brothers bounced between solo gigs and the occasional duet. Late in 2011, it was announced that Robin Gibb had been diagnosed with liver cancer, which he had known about for several months. He died on 20 May 2012 of liver and kidney failure. He was 62.

The Bee Gees, though in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1997, has been, to my mind, undervalued and unnecessarily vilified. Their resilience and reinvention over the decades alone are praiseworthy. Recorded music they’ve performed and/or written is in the hundreds of millions of units.

The documentary had a few new insightful interviews with other artists. Eric Clapton was also signed to Stigwood. Nick Jonas and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher amplified the tricky balance of performing with one’s brothers.

Barry is still performing and recording. But he noted that he’d give up all the fame if he could have his brothers back. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart indeed?

“I can think of younger days when living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do
I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow.”

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

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 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.”

 


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

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