The Bee Gees were a singing trio of brothers — Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb. The multiple award-winning group was successful for most of its forty years of recording music, but the trio had two distinct periods of exceptional success: as a harmonic "soft rock" act in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and as the foremost stars of the disco music era in the late 1970s. The group sang three-part tight harmonies that were instantly recognizable; brother Robin's clear vibrato lead was a hallmark of their earlier hits, while Barry's R&B falsetto became a signature sound during the disco years. The three brothers co-wrote most of their own hits, as well as writing and producing several major hits for other artists.
Born on the Isle of Man to English parents, the family lived in various locales that included Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, England and Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, where they began their musical careers. After early chart success in Australia, they returned to the United Kingdom where producer Robert Stigwood promoted them to a worldwide audience. It has been estimated that the Bee Gees' record sales total more than 200 million, making them one of the best-selling music artists of all time. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997; fittingly, the presenter of the award to "Britain's first family of harmony"  was Brian Wilson, historical leader of the Beach Boys, America's first family of rock harmony. Their Hall of Fame citation says "Only Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney have outsold the Bee Gees".
Barry and Robin Gibb ended the group after forty-five years of activity, when Maurice suddenly died on January 12, 2003.
Before their departure from Australia to England, Hugh Gibb sent demos to Brian Epstein who managed The Beatles and was director of NEMS, a British music store and promoter. Brian Epstein had passed the demo tapes to Robert Stigwood, who'd recently joined NEMS. After an audition with Stigwood in February 1967, the Bee Gees were signed to a five-year contract whereby Polydor Records would be the Bee Gees' record label in the United Kingdom, and ATCO Records would be the United States distributor. Work quickly began on the group's first international album, and Robert Stigwood launched a promotional campaign to coincide with its release.
Stigwood proclaimed that the Bee Gees were "The Most Significant New Talent Of 1967" and thus began the immediate comparison to The Beatles. Their second British single (their first UK 45 rpm issued was "Spicks and Specks"), "New York Mining Disaster 1941", was issued to radio stations with a blank white label listing only the song title. Some DJs immediately assumed this was a new Beatles' single and started playing the song in heavy rotation. This helped the song climb into the Top 20 in both the United Kingdom and the United States. No such chicanery was needed to boost the Bee Gees' second single, "To Love Somebody", into the U.S. Top 20. Originally written for Otis Redding, "To Love Somebody" was a soulful ballad sung by Barry, which has since become a pop standard covered by hundreds of artists including Gram Parsons, Rod Stewart, Janis Joplin, The Animals, Nina Simone, and Michael Bolton. Another single, "Holiday" was released in the United States, peaking at #16. The parent album, the erroneously titled Bee Gees 1st, peaked at #7 in the United States and #8 in the United Kingdom.
Following the success of Bee Gees 1st, the band (which now consisted of Barry on rhythm guitar, Maurice on bass, Vince Melouney on lead guitar and Colin Petersen on drums), began work on the act's second album. Released in late 1967, Horizontal repeated the success of their first album, featuring the #1 U.K. single "Massachusetts" (a #11 U.S. hit), and the #7 U.K. single "World". The sound of the album Horizontal had a more "rock" sound than their previous release, though ballads like "And The Sun Will Shine" and "Really And Sincerely" were also prominent. The Horizontal album reached #12 in the U.S., and #16 in the U.K. Promotiong the record, the Bee Gees made their first appearances in America, playing live concerts and television shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and Laugh In.
Two more singles followed in early 1968, the ballad "Words" (#15 U.S., #8 U.K.) and the double A-sided single "Jumbo" b/w "The Singer Sang His Song". "Jumbo" was the Bee Gees' least successful single to date only reaching #57 in the U.S., and #25 in the UK. The Bee Gees felt that "The Singer Sang His Song" was the stronger of the two sides, an opinion shared by listeners in the Netherlands, who made it a #3 hit. Further Bee Gees chart singles followed: "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" (#8 U.S., #1 UK) and "I Started A Joke" (#6 U.S.), both culled from the band's third album Idea. Idea was another Top 20 album in the U.S. (#17) and the UK (#4). Following the tour and TV special to promote the album, Vince Melouney left the group, feeling that he wanted to play more of a blues style music than the Gibbs were writing. Melouney did achieve one feat while with the Bee Gees—his composition "Such A Shame" (from Idea) is the only song on any Bee Gees album not written by a Gibb brother.
By 1969, the cracks began to show within the group. Robin began to feel that Stigwood had been favoring Barry as the frontman. Their next album, which was to have been a concept album called Masterpeace, evolved into the double-album Odessa. Most rock critics felt this was the best Bee Gees album of the 60s, with its progressive rock feel on the title track, the country-flavored "Marley Purt Drive" and "Give Your Best", and signature ballads such as "Melody Fair" and "First Of May". The last of which became the only single from the album, and was a minor hit. Feeling that the flipside, "Lamplight" should have been the A-side, Robin quit the group in mid-1969 and launched a solo career. Robin Gibb saw brief success in Europe with the #2 hit "Saved By The Bell" and the album Robin's Reign. Barry and Maurice continued as the Bee Gees, even recruiting their sister Lesley to appear with them on stage.
The first of many Bee Gees compilations, Best of Bee Gees was released, featuring the non-LP single "Words" plus the Australian hit "Spicks and Specks" The CD release replaces "Spicks and Specks" with another non-LP single "Tomorrow Tomorrow", because Polydor could no longer secure the rights to the Australian track. "Tomorrow Tomorrow" was a moderate hit in the UK reaching #23, but stalled at #54 in the U.S. The compilation reached the Top Ten in both the U.S. and the UK.
While Robin was off on his own, Barry, Maurice, and Colin continued on as the Bee Gees, recording their next album, Cucumber Castle. There was also a TV special filmed to accompany the album, which aired on the BBC in 1971. Colin Petersen played drums on the tracks recorded for the album, but was fired from the group after filming began and his parts were edited out of the final cut of the film. The leadoff single, "Don't Forget to Remember" was a big hit in the UK reaching #2, but a disappointment in the U.S., only reaching #73. The next 2 singles, "I.O.I.O." and "If I Only Had My Mind On Something Else" barely scraped the charts, and following the release of the album, Barry and Maurice parted ways. It seemed that the Bee Gees were finished. Barry recorded a solo album which never saw official release, though "I'll Kiss Your Memory" was released as a single, without much interest. Meanwhile, Maurice released the single "Railroad", and starred in the West End musical Sing A Rude Song.
Following a successful live album, Here at Last… The Bee Gees… Live, the Bee Gees agreed with Stigwood to participate in the creation of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It would be the turning point of their career. The cultural impact of both the film and the soundtrack was seismic, not only in the United States but also in the rest of the world, bringing the nascent disco scene into the mainstream.
The band's involvement in the film did not begin until post-production. As John Travolta asserted, "The Bee Gees weren't even involved in the movie in the beginning... I was dancing to Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs." Producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to create the songs for the film. The brothers wrote the songs "virtually in a single weekend" at France's Château d'Hérouville studio.
Bill Oakes, who supervised the soundtrack, asserts that Saturday Night Fever did not begin the disco craze; rather, it prolonged it: "Disco had run its course. These days, Fever is credited with kicking off the whole disco thing–-it really didn't. Truth is, it breathed new life into a genre that was actually dying."
Three Bee Gees singles ("How Deep Is Your Love", "Stayin' Alive", and "Night Fever") reached #1 in the United States and most countries around the world, launching the most popular period of the disco era. They also penned the song "If I Can't Have You" which became a #1 hit for Yvonne Elliman, while the Bee Gees own version was the B-Side of "Stayin' Alive." Such was the popularity of Saturday Night Fever that two different versions of the song "More Than a Woman" received airplay, one by the Bee Gees, which was relegated to being an album track, and another by Tavares, which was the hit. The Gibb sound was inescapable. During an eight-month period beginning in the Christmas season of 1977, the brothers wrote six songs that held the #1 position on the U.S. charts for 25 of 32 consecutive weeks—three under their own name, two for brother Andy Gibb, and the Yvonne Elliman single.
Fueled by the movie's success, the soundtrack broke multiple industry records, becoming the highest-selling album in recording history to that point. With more than 40 million copies sold, Saturday Night Fever is music's best selling soundtrack. It is currently calculated as the 7th highest-selling album worldwide.
During this era, Barry and Robin also wrote "Emotion" for Samantha Sang, who made it a Top Ten hit (the Bee Gees sang back-up vocals). A year later, Barry wrote the title song to the movie version of the Broadway musical Grease for Frankie Valli to perform, which went to #1. During this period, the Bee Gees' younger brother Andy followed his older siblings into a music career, and enjoyed considerable success. Produced by Barry, Andy Gibb's first three singles all topped the U.S. charts. On the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart for April 8, 1978, five songs written by the Gibbs were in the U.S. top ten at the same time: "Night Fever", "Stayin' Alive", "If I Can't Have You", "Emotion" and "Love is Thicker Than Water". Such chart dominance hadn't been seen since April 1964, when the Beatles had all five of the top five American singles. Barry Gibb became the only songwriter to have four consecutive number one hits in the U.S.A, breaking the John Lennon and Paul McCartney 1964 record. These songs were “Stayin’ Alive”, “Love Is Thicker Than Water”, “Night Fever”, “If I Can’t Have You”.
The three Bee Gees also co-starred with Peter Frampton in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) loosely inspired by the classic 1967 Beatles album. The film had been heavily promoted prior to release, and was expected to enjoy great commercial success. However, the disjointed film was savaged by the movie critics, and ignored by the public. Though some of its tracks charted, the soundtrack was a high-profile flop. Previously, the Bee Gees had recorded three Beatles covers—"Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Sun King" —for the transitory musical documentary All This and World War II.
The Bee Gees' follow-up to Saturday Night Fever was the Spirits Having Flown album. It yielded three more #1 hits: "Too Much Heaven", "Tragedy", and "Love You Inside Out." This gave the act six consecutive #1 singles in America within a year and a half (a record surpassed only by Whitney Houston). "Too Much Heaven" ended up as the Bee Gees' musical contribution to the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in January 1979, a benefit organized by the Bee Gees, Robert Stigwood, and David Frost for UNICEF that was broadcast worldwide. The brothers donated the royalties from the song to the charity. Up to 2003, this song had earned over $7 million for UNICEF. During the summer of 1979, The Bee Gees embarked on their largest concert tour covering the U.S and Canada. The Spirits Having Flown tour capitalized on Bee Gees fever that was sweeping the nation, with sold out concerts in 38 cities.
The Bee Gees even had a country hit in 1979 with "Rest Your Love On Me", the flip side of their pop hit "Too Much Heaven", which made Top 40 on the country charts. In 1981, Conway Twitty's version of "Rest Your Love On Me" topped the Country charts.
The Bee Gees' overwhelming success rose and fell with the disco bubble. By the end of 1979, disco was rapidly declining in popularity, and the backlash against disco put the Bee Gees' American career in a tailspin. Radio stations around America began promoting "Bee Gee Free Weekends". Following their remarkable run from 1975–79, the act would have only one more top ten single in the U.S., and that wouldn't come until 1989. The Bee Gees' international popularity sustained somewhat less damage.
In November 14, 1997, the Bee Gees performed a live concert in Las Vegas called One Night Only. The show included a performance of "Our Love (Don't Throw It All Away)" synchronized with a vocal by their deceased brother Andy and a cameo appearance by Celine Dion singing Immortality. The CD of the performance sold over 5 million copies. This led to a world tour of "One Night Only" concerts. The tour included playing to 56,000 people at London's Wembley Stadium on 5 September 1998 and concluded in the newly-built Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Australia in March 27, 1999.
In 1998, the group's score for Saturday Night Fever was incorporated into a stage production produced first in the West End and then on Broadway. They wrote three new songs for the adaptation. Also in 1998 the brothers recorded Ellan Vannin for Isle of Man charities. Known as the unofficial national anthem of the Isle of Man, the brothers performed the song during their world tour to reflect their pride in the place of their birth.
The Bee Gees closed the decade with what turned out to be their last full-sized concert, known as BG2K, on 31 December 1999.
In late 2004, Robin embarked on a solo tour of Germany, Russia and Asia. During January 2005, Barry, Robin and several legendary rock artists recorded "Grief Never Grows Old," the official tsunami relief record for the Disasters Emergency Committee. Later that year, Barry reunited with Barbra Streisand for her top-selling album Guilty Pleasures, released as Guilty Too in the UK as a sequel album to the previous Guilty. Robin continued touring in Europe.
In February 2006 Barry and Robin reunited on stage for a Miami charity concert to benefit the Diabetes Research Institute. It was their first public performance together since the death of brother Maurice. Barry and Robin also played at the 30th annual Prince's Trust Concert in the UK on 20 May 2006.
In October 2008 Robin performed a couple of songs in London as part of the BBC Electric Proms Saturday Night Fever performance. This involved various other performers and the BBC Concert Orchestra and was screened on the BBC and BBC interactive services.
According to PerthNow, Barry and Robin will travel to Australia in 2009 for a US documentary on how the Bee Gees conquered the world. They will then travel to Sydney where they will be handed the keys to the city and honored at a star-studded tribute.
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