Bee Gees Biography

This hugely successful Anglo/Australian vocal trio was formed by twins Maurice (22 December 1949, Douglas, Isle Of Man, British Isles, d. 12 January 2003, Miami, Florida, USA; bass/keyboards/vocals) and Robin Gibb (b. 22 December 1949, Douglas, Isle Of Man, British Isles; vocals) and their elder brother Barry Gibb (b. 1 September 1946, Douglas, Isle Of Man, British Isles; guitar/vocals). Originating from a showbusiness family based in Manchester, England, they played as a child act in several of the city’s cinemas. In 1958, the Gibb family emigrated to Australia and the boys performed regularly as a harmony trio in Brisbane, Queensland. Christened the Bee Gees, an abbreviation of Brothers Gibb, they signed to the Australian label Festival Records and released a series of singles written by the elder brother. While their single ‘Spicks And Specks’ was topping the Australian charts, the brothers were already on their way to London for a fateful audition with Robert Stigwood, a director of NEMS Enterprises, the company owned by Beatles svengali Brian Epstein. This, in turn, led to a record contract with Polydor Records and the swift release of ‘New York Mining Disaster, 1941’. The quality of the single, with its evocative, intriguing lyrics and striking harmony, provoked premature comparison with the Beatles and gained the Bee Gees a UK hit. During this period the trio was supplemented by Australian friends Colin Peterson (drums) and Vince Melouney (guitar). The second UK single, ‘To Love Somebody’, departed from the narrative power of their previous offering towards a more straightforward ballad style. Although the disc failed to reach the Top 40, the enduring quality of the song was evinced by a number of striking cover versions, most notably by Nina Simone, Eric Burdon And The Animals and Janis Joplin.

The Beatlesque songs on their outstanding acclaimed UK debut, The Bee Gees First garnered further comparisons. Every track was a winner, from the delightfully naïve ‘Cucumber Castle’ to the sublime ‘Please Read Me’, while ‘Holiday’ had the beautiful stark quality of Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’. The 14 tracks were all composed by the twins and Barry, still aged only 17 and 19, respectively. By October 1967, the Bee Gees had registered their first UK number 1 with the moving ‘Massachusetts’, which showcased their ability as arrangers to particular effect. Aware of the changes occurring in the pop firmament, they bravely experimented with different musical styles and briefly followed the Beatles and the Rolling Stones along the psychedelic road. Their progressive forays confused their audience, however, and the double album Odessa failed to match the work of their major rivals. Their singles remained adventurous and strangely eclectic, with the unusual tempo of ‘World’ followed by the neurotic romanticism of ‘Words’. Both singles hit the Top 10 in the UK but signs of commercial fallibility followed with the relatively unsuccessful double a-side, ‘Jumbo’/‘The Singer Not The Song’. Masters of the chart comeback, the Bee Gees next turned to a heart-rending ballad about the final hour of a condemned prisoner. ‘I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You’ gave them their second UK number 1 and sixth consecutive US Top 20 hit. The stark but startling ‘First Of May’ followed, again revealing the Bee Gees’ willingness to tackle a mood piece in favour of an easily accessible melodic ballad. To complete their well-rounded image, the brothers showed their talent as composers, penning the Marbles’ UK Top 10 hit ‘Only One Woman’.

Without question, the Bee Gees was one of the most accomplished acts of the late 60s, but as the decade ended the band fell victim to internal bickering and various pressures wrought by international stardom. Maurice Gibb married pop star Lulu and the brothers joined the celebrity showbusiness élite with all its attendant trappings of drink and drugs. Dissent among the brotherhood saw Robin Gibb embark on a solo career with brief success. Remarkably, the Bee Gees ended the 60s with another change of style, emerging with an authentic country standard in ‘Don’t Forget To Remember’. With Colin Peterson still in tow, Maurice and Barry worked on a much-publicized but ultimately insubstantial film, Cucumber Castle. This fractious period ended with a ludicrous series of lawsuits in which the drummer had the audacity to claim rights to the Bee Gees name. A year of chaos and missed opportunities ensued, during which the band lost much of its impetus and following. Maurice and Barry both released one single each as soloists, but their efforts were virtually ignored. Their career in the UK was in tatters, but after reuniting with Robin in late 1970 they went on to have two major US hits with ‘Lonely Days’ and the chart-topping ‘How Can You Mend A Broken Heart’.

After a brief flurry of transatlantic hits in 1972 with ‘My World’ and ‘Run To Me’, the Bee Gees’ appeal diminished to an all-time low. Three hitless years saw them reduced to playing in cabaret at such inauspicious venues as the Batley Variety Club in Yorkshire. A switch from Polydor Records to Robert Stigwood’s new label RSO encouraged the trio to adopt a more American sound with the album Life In A Tin Can. Determined to explore a more distinctive style, the brothers were teamed with famed producer Arif Mardin. Mr. Natural, recorded in London, indicated a noticeable R&B/soul influence that was extended on 1975’s Main Course. Now ensconced in Miami, the brothers gathered together a formidable backing unit featuring Alan Kendall (guitar), Dennis Byron (drums) and Blue Weaver (keyboards). ‘Jive Talkin’’, a pilot single from the album, zoomed to number 1 in the USA and brought the trio back to the Top 10 in Britain. Meanwhile, fellow RSO artist Olivia Newton-John enjoyed a US hit with their country ballad ‘Come On Over’. The Bee Gees were well and truly back. The change in their sound during the mid-70s was nothing short of remarkable. They had virtually reinvented themselves, with Mardin encouraging them to explore their R&B roots and experiment with falsetto vocals. The effect was particularly noticeable on their next US Top 10 hit, ‘Nights On Broadway’ (later a hit for Candi Staton). They were perfectly placed to promote and take advantage of the underground dance scene in the USA, and their next album, Children Of The World, went platinum. The attendant single, ‘You Should Be Dancing’, reached number 1 in the USA, while the follow-up, ‘Love So Right’, hit number 3. Not content to revitalize their own career, the trio’s soundtrack contributions also provided massive hits for Yvonne Elliman (‘If I Can’t Have You’) and Tavares (‘More Than A Woman’).

The Bee Gees’ reputation as the new gods of the discotheque was consummated on the soundtrack of the movie Saturday Night Fever, which sold in excess of 30 million copies. In their most successful phase to date, the trio achieved a quite staggering run of six consecutive chart-toppers: ‘How Deep Is Your Love’, ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘Night Fever’, ‘Too Much Heaven’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Love You Inside Out’. Their grand flurry continued with the movie Grease, for which they produced the chart-topping title track by Frankie Valli. Having already received Beatles comparisons during their early career, it was ill-advised for the Gibb brothers to accept the starring roles in the movie Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. This proved an embarrassing detour for both the brothers and their co-star, Peter Frampton.

As the 70s ended, the Bee Gees increasingly switched their interests towards production. Although they released two further albums, Spirits Having Flown (1979) and Living Eyes (1981), far greater attention was being focused on their chart-topping younger brother, Andy Gibb. A multi-million-dollar dispute with their mentor Robert Stigwood was settled out of court, following which the Gibbs contributed to another movie soundtrack, Stayin’ Alive. With the Bee Gees’ activities put on hold, it was Barry who emerged as the most prolific producer and songwriter. He duetted with Barbra Streisand on the chart-topping ‘Guilty’ and composed and sang on ‘Heartbreaker’ with Dionne Warwick. The brothers, meanwhile, also wrote the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton US chart-topper ‘Islands In The Stream’ and Diana Ross’ excellent Motown Records pastiche, ‘Chain Reaction’. Seemingly content to stay in the background, masterminding platinum discs for others, they eventually reunited in 1987 for the hugely successful ESP. The indisputable masters of melody, the ‘comeback’ single ‘You Win Again’ was warmly received by usually hostile critics, who applauded its undoubted craftsmanship. The single gave the trio their fifth UK number 1, a full eight years after their last chart-topper, ‘Tragedy’. Sadly, the death of younger brother Andy the following year added a tragic note to the proceedings. In deference to their brother’s death they declined to attend an Ivor Novello Awards ceremony in which they were honoured for their Outstanding Contribution to British Music.

Looking back over the Bee Gees’ career, one cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer diversity of their talents and remarkable ability continually to reinvent themselves. Like that other great family group, the Beach Boys, they showed controlled dignity in surviving family feuds, dissension, tragic death, harsh criticism, changes in musical fashion and much else, to become one of pop’s ineffable institutions. One cannot ignore the legacy of their performing, songwriting and production activities; their work represents one of the richest tapestries in the entire history of modern popular music. This appeared to be recognized at the 1997 BRIT Awards, which was followed by a glut of press and television promotion for Still Waters, which became a sizeable commercial hit. The brothers’ remarkable creativity showed no sign of waning on the much publicized follow-up, This Is Where I Came In, and they were rewarded with CBEs in January 2002’s New Year’s Honours List.

At the start of the following year, Maurice Gibb was admitted to hospital complaining of stomach pains. He suffered a heart attack during emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage, caused by a congenital condition, and died in the early hours of Sunday 12 January. His brothers subsequently announced they would be ‘retiring’ the Bee Gees name.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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