One of the most famous groups of all time, the Bee Gees are a British-Australian group who catapulted into worldwide fame during the 1970s disco era.
The Bee Gee’s sound can also be easily identified by their tight, famous three-vocal harmonies, with Barry’s falsetto becoming the band’s trademark. It is that kind of vocal characteristic that the Bee Gees have made their own and unequalled by any other artists.
The Bee Gees were talented songwriters who both created great tunes for other singers as well as wrote many of their own famous tracks. They were renowned for their unique and timeless melodies, insightful lyrics, and unique recording techniques.
Throughout their lengthy career, The Bee Gees were successfully able to adapt to shifting musical trends and styles. They began in the 1960s as a pop and rock band before becoming forerunners of the disco revolution in the 1970s.
Their songs such as “Massachusetts”, “I Started A Joke”, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”, “How Deep Is Your Love”, “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive” and “To Love Somebody” are now classics in pop music history.
The Gibb family
The phenomenon that is Bee Gees began early in the mid-1950s. The Gibb brothers — Barry, Robin and Maurice were all born in the Isle of Man in Great Britain. The family then moved to Manchester.
The Gibbs were a very musical family. Their father, the late Hugh Gibb, was an accomplished musician himself who played the drums and was a bandleader. He worked in various musical groups in England and was known for his musical talent and skills behind the drums. He passed down his love of music and drumming to his sons which he wishes to pursue music career from a young age.
Just like any other British boys, the Gibb brothers were also caught up by the skiffle craze (home grown instruments and music), and they formed their own group the Rattlesnakes. Later on, the brothers concentrated on harmonizing their vocals. The Gibb brothers also had an infant brother Andy, who would one day become a popular artist in his own right.
The Gibb brothers establishing a career in Australia
The Gibb family migrated to Queensland, Australia, where the brothers would later establish their career. There, they began to perform in local shows until racetrack promoter Bill Goode discovered them playing in Brisbane. Goode then introduced the young brothers to disc jockey Bill Gates (no, not that Bill Gates) who later named the brothers/musical group “Bee Gees” after Goode’s, Barry Gibb’s and Gates’ own initials.
Australia’s rock pioneer Col Joyce helped the Bee Gees sign a contract with Leedon Records, a subsidiary of Festival Records during the early 1960s.
Although the Bee Gees scored a minor hit in 1965’s “Wine and Women”, Leedon decided to drop them because the group were unable to attain commercial success.
By the time that Leedon was to remove the group, newcomer Spin records came into the picture. The brothers met Nat Kipner, an American-born producer, songwriter and entrepreneur who had been designated as the A&R manager of a brand-new independent company called Spin Records.
In exchange for giving Festival the rights to distribute the group’s records in Australia, Kipner successfully negotiated the group’s transfer to Spin during the brief period when he temporarily took over management of the group.
Under Spin’s direction, the boys were able to hone their recording and songwriting talents while working at the label’s small recording studio in the Sydney suburbs. Later, the band acknowledged that this helped them significantly enhance their artistry abilities. They recorded a significant amount of original material during this creative period. The group released “Spicks and Specks”, their first major hit in Australia, as they also frequently collaborated with other local artists, such as the members of the beat band Steve & The Board, which was fronted by Nat Kipner’s teenage son, Steve. But follow on singles flopped. Soured by another lack of success, the Gibb brothers returned to England.
On January 4, 1967, the Gibbs set out on their return trip to England, frustrated by their lack of success and accompanied by Ossie Byrne (engineer-producer). The group learnt that “Spicks and Specks” had been awarded the “Best Single of the Year” by Go-Set, Australia’s most well-known and influential music publication.
The Bee Gees going back to England, and tasting their first commercial success
As Bee Gees were to return to their home country, their father Hugh Gibb sent a demo tape to the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, who was then also directing their family-owned business NEMS Enterprises. Robert Stigwood was newly employed at NEMS, and the demo tape fell into his hands. Impressed by what he listened on the tape, Stigwood called the Bee Gees for an audition. Soon, the brothers were signed to Polydor Records (ATCO Records was Polydor’s US distributor that would release the Bee Gees’ recordings later). Recording was underway, and Stigwood was widely promoting the band as “The Most Significant Talent” of 1967. Soon Vince Melouney and Colin Petersen joined the Bee Gees as lead guitarist and drummer respectively.
The group’s first international hit was “New York Mining Disaster 1941” which entered the US charts, hitting the Top 20 charts at #14, while it was #12 on the UK charts. It was followed three months later by “To Love Somebody” which charted higher in the US (at #17) than in their homeland (at #41). But “Massachusetts” would become their first #1 UK hit by September 1967 and even a global hit; despite this, it was just short of the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. Stigwood was correct in his proclamation; the Bee Gees were a significant talent of 1967. They also immediately began to work on their second album.
In January the following year the Bee Gees kicked off their first US engagement, a tour to promote their second album, Horizontal. The album yielded a Top 20 US single, “Words”. The album itself charted very high on the Billboard 200 at #12, while it reached #16 on the UK albums chart. In their second home country Australia, the album went to #8.
In September 1968, the Bee Gees released their third international album (and fifth overall) Idea, which produced their first US Top 10 hit and second #1 UK smash “I’ve Gotta Message To You”. “I Started A Joke” went even higher on the US Top Ten at #6. Soon the Bee Gees were guesting on TV shows in the US. At the peak of their first major success, Melouney left the group to concentrate more on his passion, which is blues music.
In 1969, the band band released the double-album Odessa, which many rock critics felt that this the best Bee Gees album during the decade. “The First Of May” was the album’s only charting single, at #37. At the time, members of the band grew acrimonious with each other. Robin Gibb left the band; he admitted years later about their disintegration, “We had egos.”
Only Barry, Maurice and drummer Petersen continued to function as a group, and the Bee Gees released their next album Cucumber Castle, which produced singles such as “Don’t Forget To Remember” (at #73 in the US, #2 in the UK). Colin was subsequently fired from the group. Following singles did disappointingly on the charts, and it looked like the Bee Gees would be no more especially when each of the brothers pursued other musical interests.
However, during the year 1970 the brothers got back together again, working on new material, songs of pain and heartbreak. One of them was “Lonely Days” (from their 1970 reunion album 2 Years On) which climbed to #3 on the US Hot 100. Finally, the Bee Gees achieved their first US number 1 hit, “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” in the summer of 1970. On their 1972 LP To Whom It May Concern, it spawned another hit single “Run To Me” (at #16 US, #9 UK and #6 US adult contemporary).
During the early 1970s, however, the band experienced stagnation in their careers. Following albums such as Life In A Tin Can, Mr. Natural, and their second compilation album Best of Bee Gees failed commercially.
Finding a new style in disco
In 1975, the group (along with new drummer Geoff Bridgford who joined them in 1970) moved to Florida to record songs, at the suggestion from Eric Clapton. Also, at the urge of their manager Stigwood, the Bee Gees tried out disco, and they liked it. Their audience agreed with them. The result was the hit disco-oriented dance songs such as the #20 single “Nights On Broadway” and “Jive Talkin'”, which went to #1. Since their Idea days, this was the first time the Bee Gees scored simultaneous top 10 hits. The album Main Course became a Top 20 Billboard album chart at #14. Now the Bee Gees and their fans were beginning to embrace this new genre.
The Bee Gees sang “To Love Somebody” with Helen Reddy during their 1975 performance on The Midnight Special to promote Main Course. They also recorded three Beatles covers around the same period for the failed musical/documentary All This and World War II. Bee Gees performed “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight”, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window“, with Barry on lead vocals, and “Sun King” with Maurice on lead vocals.
Barry Gibb found a new vocal style that will be forever synonymous with the band: his falsetto, which he used to great advantage. 1976’s Children Of The World was their first album since their 1969’s Bee Gees’ 1st to peak at the Top 10 of the Billboard’s 200 album charts at #8
The Bee Gees shooting to fame as legendary disco stars
The band would finally achieve legendary status when they provided the legendary soundtrack for the 1977 John Travolta film Saturday Night Fever. The film’s accompanying LP, Saturday Night Fever: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, was a worldwide hit, topping the charts worldwide. The majority of the soundtrack album was recorded by the Bee Gees — including smashes such as the #3 dance hit “More Than A Woman” and three chart-topping singles: “How Deep Is Your Love”, “Night Fever” and “Stayin’ Alive”.
Like the soundtrack album (which sold 40 million copies worldwide), the film was also a huge global hit. Disco was in full swing.
With Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson, The Bee Gees won five Grammy Awards for Saturday Night Fever over the course of two years, including – Album of the Year, Producer of the Year, Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices for “Stayin’ Alive”, and two awards for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (one in 1979 for “Stayin’ Alive” and one in 1978 for “How Deep Is Your Love“).
The Bee Gees repeated their Saturday Night Fever success with another monster hit album Spirits Having Flown, released in 1979. It went to #1 in the US and UK as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Germany. It spawned two #1 Billboard hits, “Tragedy” and “Love You Inside Out”. Spirits Having Flown sold 30 million copies becoming the Bee Gees’ real first #1 album (not counting the multi-artist Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album).
The Bee Gees also had a country hit in 1979 with “Rest Your Love on Me,” the flip side of their pop single “Too Much Heaven,” which reached the top 40 on the country charts. Conway Twitty also found success with it in 1981, reaching the top of the country music charts.
The Bee Gees in the 1980s
Ushering into the new decade, the Bee Gees struggled to break away from their image as disco stars with the quickly fading popularity of disco. This struggle is evidenced by their 1981 LP, Living Eyes — the album tanked. Their 1987 LP E.S.Pfailed to chart high on the Billboard 200 as well as its leadoff single “You Win Again”, although it went to #1 on the UK singles chart.
Since the 1980s the Bee Gees members have been involved in collaborations with many artists, including Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Dionne Warwick and many others. Barry and Maurice Gibb co-wrote “Islands In The Stream” for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. It became a massive hit in 1983, topping in all Hot 100, country and adult contemporary charts.
In 1983, the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive soundtrack, the follow-up to Saturday Night Fever, was a bigger hit. Their Top 30 hit “The Woman in You” appeared on the soundtrack, which was given a platinum certification in the US.
Also in 1983, Chicago musician Ronald Selle filed a lawsuit against the band, claiming the brothers had stolen melodic elements from one of his songs, “Let It End,” and used them in “How Deep Is Your Love“. The Bee Gees initially lost the case; one juror claimed that the Gibbs’ inability to present expert testimony refuting the plaintiff’s expert testimony that it was “impossible” for the two songs to have been written independently was a factor in the jury’s decision. A few months later, the decision was rescinded.
The Bee Gees’ Eaten Alive album, which featured a Michael Jackson-penned title tune (who also performed on the track), was released by Diana Ross in 1985. Barry Gibb once more collaborated on the album’s production, and Ross’s No. 1 single in the UK and Australia was “Chain Reaction“.
In 1988 singer/teen idol Andy Gibb died of a heart disease which, his brothers believed, was the result of drug and alcohol abuse. The Bee Gees released their LP One the following year, which contains a song dedicated for Andy titled “Wish You Were Here”. One also spawned the group’s first Top 10 hit in a decade which is the title track (at #7).
The Bee Gees in the 1990s
In 1990, Bee Gees’ label Polydor released another compilation, Tales from the Brothers Gibb: A History In Song, in a boxed set. It contains all the band’s singles for the exception of those from Living Eyes.
During the 1990s, the group earned respectable hits, such as “For Whom The Bell Tolls” (at #109 in the US, #4 in the UK), and “Alone” which was the group’s only Top 40 single at that time (while it peaked at #5 in the UK).
The Bee Gees embarked on a European tour after releasing High Civilization (1991), which had the UK’s top five song “Secret Love.” Following the trip, Barry Gibb developed a significant back condition that required surgery. He also suffered arthritis, which at one point was so bad that it seemed unlikely he would be able to play the guitar for very long. Maurice Gibb also began receiving therapy for his alcoholism in the early 1990s after battling it for a long time with the aid of Alcoholics Anonymous (an international peer-led fellowship recovery from alcoholism).
Their 1997 album Still Waters, which peaked at No. 2 in the UK (their highest album chart position since the 1979), and No. 11 in the US, was released by the band. “Alone,” the album’s lead track, delivered them another UK Top 5 smash and a US top 30 hits. Still Waters was the band’s most famous US single during the post-RSO era.
The Bee Gees won the Outstanding Contribution to Music prize at the 1997 BRIT Awards, which took place on February 24 at London’s Earls Court. The Bee Gees gave their One Night Only live concert on November 14, 1997, in Las Vegas. During the performance of “Our Love (Don’t Throw It All Away)“, a vocal by their late brother Andy was synced, and Celine Dion made a surprise appearance to play “Immortality“. The band said that the Las Vegas concert would be their last live performance of their career because of Barry’s health difficulties, which gave rise to the term “One Night Only.”
Barry made the decision to carry on despite the discomfort and pain after the Vegas concert, which received such an overwhelmingly enthusiastic reception from the audience that they decided to extend it into their final full-fledged globe tour of “One Night Only” events.
The Bee Gees performed their final full-scale concert, on December 31, 1999, to ring in the new century.
The deaths of Maurice and Robin Gibb
This Is Where I Came In, the group’s final album of original music, was published in 2001. The album was yet another hit, peaking in the Top 10 in the UK (where it was awarded a Gold certification) and the Top 20 in the US. Additionally, a UK Top 20 smash single, the title track.
While awaiting his emergency surgery to repair a strangulated intestine, Maurice Gibb, 53, unexpectedly passed away following a heart attack on January 12, 2003.
The solo album Magnet by Robin was released the same week that Maurice passed away. The Bee Gees were presented with the Grammy Legend Award on February 23, 2003, making them the first recipients of the award in the twenty-first century. In a sorrowful ceremony, Adam, Maurice’s son, and Barry and Robin accepted.
Because of Maurice’s unexpected death, Barry and Robin retired from the limelight. However, late in 2004, Robin set out on a solo tour of Asia, Russia, and Germany. The official tsunami relief song for the Disasters Emergency Committee, “Grief Never Grows Old,” was created in January 2005 by iconic rock musicians Barry, Robin, and others. Barry and Barbra Streisand reunited for her best-selling album Guilty Pleasures later that year. Guilty Pleasures was released in the UK as Guilty Too as the follow-up to the album Guilty. Barry and Cliff Richard collaborated on the song “I Cannot Give You My Love“, which was also recorded in 2004 and peaked at number 20 in the UK.
Years later the remaining Gibb brothers announced that they were returning to perform, still under the name Bee Gees. Significant appearances included being guests on the BBC TV show Dancing With The Stars and on the ninth season of the American Idol. There were also talks of making a Bee Gees biofilm with no less than the premiere American filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
However, all these reunion plans came to a tragic halt when Robin Gibb was diagnosed with liver cancer in November 2011. Because of his grave condition, he had to cancel several appearances. On April 14, 2012, it was announced that Robin had developed pneumonia in a Chelsea hospital and was unconscious. Despite coming out of his coma on April 20, 2012, his health quickly declined, and he died on May 20, 2012, from liver and kidney failure, leaving Barry the sole surviving Gibb brother. The Bee Gees are no more.
The Bee Gees’ impact on the music industry
The Bee Gees are one of the few acts to have multiple successful arcs from the 60s to the 80s and are still popular more than 50 years after their start. They’ve sold more than 220 million records, making them as one of the best-selling artists in the 20th century. They were also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, elevating them to pop music immortality.
Their vocal harmonies established a benchmark for pop music and were frequently imitated by other musicians. The group’s harmonies have become a defining feature of their music. Their vocal arrangements were intricate and flawless. Additionally, a variety of artists have covered their songs, and their songwriting has received widespread appreciation.
The Bee Gees’ 1970s disco genre popularization is among their most significant achievements in the music industry. The Bee Gees contributed to the success of songs like “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” and “How Deep is Your Love,” which made disco one of the decade’s most popular musical genres. Their songs were ideal for the disco clubs and dance floors of the time because they were peppy, danceable, and full of memorable hooks. Many regarded them as the kings of disco music and created or produced a number of the biggest disco hits of the decade.