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.”

Robin and Maurice Gibb would have been 70

The working title for the film was Saturday Night

Bee Gees 1977
Barry, Robin, Maurice Gibb, 1977
Robin and Maurice Gibb, fraternal twin brothers and 2/3s of the BeeGees, would have been 70 on December 22.

Maurice “died unexpectedly on 12 January 2003, at age 53, from a heart attack, while awaiting emergency surgery to repair a strangulated intestine.” Robin had contracted pneumonia, went in and out of a coma, and “died on 20 May 2012 of liver and kidney failure” at age 64.

This leaves Barry as the only brother Gibb remaining, as I noted here. What more can I say about these guys beyond what I’ve already written?

I’ve always liked this anecdote: “When Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood was producing a movie about a New York disco scene, the working title for the film at that time was Saturday Night. Stigwood asked the group to write a song using that name as a title, but the Bee Gees disliked it.

“They had already written a song called ‘Night Fever’, so the group convinced Stigwood to use that and change the film to Saturday Night Fever… The string intro of ‘Night Fever’ was inspired by ‘Theme from A Summer Place’ by Percy Faith…”

While their disco-era music was fine, I always felt their earlier stuff is still somewhat overlooked. They never received a Grammy or An American Music Award before 1978. They did make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, based on the whole body of their work.


I decided to fill this, in part, with some BeeGees covers. Coverville has a necessarily incomplete list. Chart action is from US Billboard charts; some of these songs were bigger hits in the UK and elsewhere.

Bee Gees Medley – Perpetuum Jazzile, which popped up on that “next song” feature on YouTube
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart – Al Green
More Than a Woman – Tavares, from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, #33 pop, #36 RB in 1978
To Love Somebody – Roberta Flack

BeeGees songs from SNF I had not previously linked to:

How Deep Is Your Love
Night Fever, #1 pop for eight weeks, #8 RB in 1978
More Than a Woman

Songs from the first BeeGees greatest hits album that I had not previously linked to

Holiday, #16 in 1967
I Started a Joke, #6 in 1969
First of May, #37 in 1969
Massachusetts, #11 in 1967
Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You
Tomorrow, Tomorrow – #54 in 1969; only on the CD, replacing Spicks and Specks

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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