THE BEE GEES

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Many pop music artists have parlayed an eclectic blend of musical styles to achieve commercial success, but the Bee Gees are one of the few to remain on top despite a complete image makeover. Whatever genre assayed by the group, be it British Invasion pop, Baroque ballads, rhythm and blues, disco, or adult contemporary—their recorded output has been distinguished by immaculate three-part vocal harmonies, flawless arrangements and production work, and songwriting of the highest order.

Although the group (particularly in the late 1960s) has sometimes included added personnel, the primary members have always been the three Gibb brothers, Barry (born September 1, 1947) and the twins, Robin and Maurice (born December 22, 1949). They first performed in public at an amateur talent show in Manchester’s Gaumont British Theatre in 1955 as "The Blue Cats.". After the family emigrated to Brisbane, Australia in 1958, the trio began performing live as well as appearing on radio and television. Within two years the brothers have been awarded a weekly TV series and secured an eighteen-month residency at Beachcomber Nightclub in Surfers Paradise. Their popularity with Australian youth led to a contract with Festival Records in late 1962. The group’s first single, "Three Kisses of Love" (available on: Bee Gees: The Early Years, Vol. 2; Excelsior 4402; 1980), was released in January 1963, making Australia’s Top Twenty. A string of hits followed, climaxed by three number one hits in 1966: "Wine and Women," "I Was a Lover, a Leader of Men" (both on: Bee Gees: The Early Years, Vol. 1; Excelsior 4401; 1980), and "Spicks and Specks" (Rare Precious & Beautiful; Atco 33-264; 1968).

Primed to achieve international popularity, the family relocated to England in February 1967. The early months there were spent recording The Bee Gees’ First (Atco 223; 1967), which included three U.S. Top Twenty singles: "New York Mining Disaster" (Atco 6487; 1967), "To Love Somebody" (Atco 6503; 1967), and "Holiday" (Atco 6521; 1967). The album also earned them the "Beatles imitators" label; their father, Hugh Gibb, refuted the charge, noting, "In actual fact we began recording before the Beatles…we came from Manchester, which is only 30 miles from Liverpool. It is rubbish to say we copied the Beatles’ sound, it wasn’t their sound, it was an English sound that began with Tommy Steele and skiffle." (liner notes to: Bee Gees: The Early Years, Vol. 2)

Despite such criticisms, the group enjoyed a long run of hit singles—including "I Gotta Get a Message to You" (Atco 6603; 1968), "I Started a Joke" (Atco 6639; 1968), "Lonely Days" (Atco 6795; 1970), and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (Atco 6824; 1971)—and moderate-selling LPs—most notably, Horizontal (Atco 233; 1968), Idea (Atco 253; 1968), Odessa (Atco 702; 1969), Best of Bee Gees (Atco 292; 1969), 2 Years On (Atco 353; 1971), Trafalgar (Atco 7003; 1971), and To Whom It May Concern (Atco 7012; 1972)—interrupted only by Robin’s brief departure in 1969 to pursue a solo career. By 1974, however, sales of their increasingly over-produced recordings had dropped off to the point where Atco demanded a stylistic change more in tune with the contemporary music scene. The resulting release, the R&B-disco flavored Main Course (RSO 4807; 1975), placed the Bee Gees squarely into the pop mainstream with the help of three Top Twenty singles (including the chart-topper, "Jive Talkin’," RSO 510). During the latter half of the 1970s, no act enjoyed greater chart success. Three of the group’s contributions to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (RSO 4001; 1977)—"How Deep Is You Love" (RSO 882; 1977), "Stayin’ Alive" (RSO 885; 1977), and "Night Fever" (RSO 889; 1978)—spent a total of fifteen weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. At one point the Bee Gees had five of their compositions in the Top Ten (including songs recorded by Samantha Sang and brother Andy Gibb). The soundtrack remained number one on the album charts for twenty-four weeks; it was estimated at the time to be the best-selling LP in history. They also earned five Grammies for their work on the film soundtrack project in 1978.

Faced with the unenviable task of trying to top their hitherto unprecedented success, the Bee Gees moved away from disco with Spirits Having Flown (RSO 3041; 1979), which included three number one singles: "Too Much Heaven" (RSO 913; 1978), "Tragedy" (RSO 918; 1979), and "Love You Inside Out" (RSO 925; 1979). However, album releases comprised of new material from that point onward exhibited a marked decline in sales. While songs such as "The Woman in You" (RSO 813173; 1983) and "You Win Again" (Warner Bros. 7-28191; 1987) continued the group’s tradition of beautiful melodies, lush harmonizing, and polished production work, they appeared predictable compared with earlier cutting-edge releases. Furthermore, Top Forty radio stations seemed less inclined to place new Bee Gees records in rotation. On the other hand, they have remained a fixture within the adult contemporary format.