The Bee Gees
The first time I saw or heard anything connected to the Bee Gees was watching an episode of Saturday Night Live, that the group wasn’t even on. In 2003, there was a skit on SNL with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake playing Barry Gibb and his brother Robin Gibb, pretending to sing like the Bee Gees and I loved every minute of it. I remember asking my mom who they were pretending to be and I immediately started looking up music of the Bee Gees. At the time one of my favorite artists was Justin Timberlake and it was clear when listening to the Bee Gees music, that they were a huge influence on Timberlake’s musical style. I think that’s why I found an initial appreciation for the Bee Gees music before really delving into their work.
The Bee Gees were composed of three brothers, the oldest Barry Gibb and his two brothers, fraternal twins, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb. The brothers were born in Manchester, England where they were pushed to pursue careers in music by their father, who saw them as great talents. As teenagers in the 50s, the brothers would perform in movie theatres. In 1958, their family moved to the city of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. When they came to Australia they were known as the Brothers Gibb, and performed for crowds at the Redcliffe Speedway before and between races. In 1960, they ended up getting the opportunity to perform songs on television where they changed their name to the Bee Gees. The next stage in their career was in 1963, when they got a record deal with Festival Records. Under Festival the Bee Gees didn’t see much success. They had a few minor hits but they felt that they needed to move on from Australia. In 1966, the Bee Gees returned to England, where they sent demos to Brian Epstein, who passed it along to Roger Stigwood. Stigwood was most impressed by the one of the groups songs, “Spicks & Specks.”
He auditioned the Bee Gees in 1967, leading to their signing a five year contract with Polydor Records allowing their records to also be released in the US. Within the group, Barry and Robin would take turns on lead vocals while the other would be singing harmonies with Maurice. Barry Gibb played guitar and Maurice switched between bass, piano, organ and Mellotron. They had their first hit on the music charts in England and America placing in the top 20 with their 1967 song, “New York Mining Disaster.” In the following year they had repeated success in the music charts with songs such as, “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” which reached number 1 in the UK and number 8 in the US, and “I Started a Joke,” which reached number 6 in the US. From 1970 to 1973, the Bee Gees continued to put out records that placed high on the music charts. They made appearances on the big late night shows like the Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. Their first number one hit in the US was the song, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
In 1973, the Bee Gees started to experience a loss in popularity. They moved to the US while on a tour in 1974, which ultimately ended with them playing in small venues rather than huge crowds. They had faded from being the hot new group to almost being an afterthought. They knew that they needed to do something drastic.
In 1975 they moved to Miami, Florida to record at Criteria Studios at the suggestion of Eric Clapton. It was at this point in the Bee Gees career that they started to move away from the ballads they had come to be known for and incorporated an R&B influence into their music. This was the beginning of their work with disco music. They put out the album Main Course that highlighted the groups new sound. The record had the single “Jive Talkin’,” where Barry Gibb first sang in what became his signature falsetto. “Jive Talkin’,” became the Bee Gees second number one hit in the US.
Another single from the same album, “Nights on Broadway,” reached number 7 on the US charts and became one of the groups most well-known songs to date. This was one of the songs that was parodied on the aforementioned sketch on SNL. In 1976, their next album, Children of the World completely displayed the falsetto and synthesizer from their keyboard player Blue Weaver. In 1977 the Bee Gees were asked to have their songs used in the soundtrack for the film Saturday Night Fever. The songs used for the film were, “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” and “Night Fever.” All three songs reached number one in the US and ranked high around the world as well. The Bee Gees were a staple of disco. They created music that can withstand the test of time through their incorporation of soul, amazing vocal harmonies and strong focus on instrumentation in their work.