I am man enough to admit, publicly, that I am a big Bee Gees fan. And when I say I’m a big fan, I mean that I have every Bee Gees studio album, every live album, most of the solo albums, and even a couple of unreleased bootlegs.
They got pigeonholed as a disco group in the late 1970’s, but they were much more than that. Their musical career spanned five decades and produced 22 studio albums. Besides their contributions to the Saturday Night Fever film soundtrack, only two of those albums are really disco albums: ‘Children of the World’ and ‘Spirits Having Flown.’ Even those have a healthy melange of other styles mixed in—pop, soft rock, funk, and a bit of country and R&B. Many also count ‘Main Course’ as a disco album, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch . . . three (arguably four) disco songs on a ten-track album doesn’t really make it a disco album.
The Bee Gees were a trio composed of brothers—twins Maurice and Robin Gibb along with elder brother Barry—born to English parents in the Isle of Man but raised in Australia. The group’s name derives from ‘The Brothers Gibb.’ Their first international success came in the late 1960’s, just around the time that The Beatles were disintegrating. While not wholly dissimilar from other ‘British invasion’ acts at the time, the Bee Gees’ music had a unique vocal harmony and an unusual, sometimes-haunting kind of melancholy behind them.
Their early hits include ‘To Love Somebody,’ ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941,’ and ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You.’ Their biggest disco-era hits include ‘Stayin’ Alive,’ ‘You Should Be Dancing,’ and ‘If I Can’t Have You.’ But some of their best work never made it into the Billboard charts.
A few of my lesser-known Bee Gees favorites (many composed and performed by ‘quiet brother’ Maurice) include ‘Lay It On Me,’ ‘Walking Back to Waterloo,’ ‘Alive,’ ‘Saw a New Morning,’ ‘Mr. Natural,’ ‘You Stepped Into My Life,’ ‘E.S.P.,’ ‘House of Shame,’ ‘Closer Than Close,’ and ‘Man in the Middle.’ And these only scratch the surface; there are literally hundreds more great songs where they came from.
In addition, the Bee Gees were prolific songwriters for other artists. They’ve written songs for Diana Ross, Olivia Newton-John, Destiny’s Child, Frankie Valli, Barbra Steisand, Dionne Warwick, Tina Turner, Yvonne Elliman, Celine Dion, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, and countless more—including their younger brother, Andy Gibb, who had a successful solo career. Their music has also been widely covered by other artists like Eric Clapton, Al Green, Elton John, Tom Jones, and Elvis Presley. Remember ‘Ghetto Supastar‘ by Pras Michel, ODB, and Mya? Yeah, the refrain was lifted right from the Bee Gees’ ‘Islands in the Stream‘ (and the Bee Gees are listed as co-writers).
At a glance, the Bee Gees seem somewhat out-of-place in my music collection. Compared to Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles—or even The Four Seasons, Billy Joel, and Elton John—they seem like light popcorn nestled incongruously among weightier greats. Judging the music objectively on the basis of lyrical depth, musical complexity, or even the quality of the brothers’ instrumental and vocal performances, they probably fall short of many of their peers.
And yet, their music has always spoken to me. I tell people that my two favorite bands are Pink Floyd and the Bee Gees—quite the odd couple, I know, and I love the incredulous reaction I often get from other music lovers. The explanation is simple: Pink Floyd’s music makes me think, but the Bee Gees’ music makes me feel. Sometimes I want to listen to music that exercises my brain, and sometimes I want to listen to music that exercises my heart. There’s an honored place for both in my ever-growing music collection—over 7,500 songs, at last count.
Sadly, the Gibb siblings have been faced with much tragedy. Non-Bee Gee brother Andy died in 1988 from myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) at the age of 30. Maurice died in 2003 from volvulus (twisted intestine) at the age of 53. And now, Maurice’s twin brother Robin died Sunday from colorectal cancer at the age of 62. He will be sorely missed. ‘Requiescat in pace,’ Robin.
Barry is now the sole surviving member of the Bee Gees trio, and he and his older sister Lesley are now the two survivors from among the five Gibb siblings.
I leave you with the title track from what was sadly the last Bee Gees studio album, 2001’s ‘This Is Where I Came In’—another one of my personal favorites.