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