The Bee Gees were a British and Australian band, originally a pop singer-songwriter combination, reborn as funk and disco. The brothers Gibb, consisting of frequent lead vocalist Barry, and the twins, co-lead vocalist Robin, and keyboardist/guitarist Maurice, were born in the Isle of Man in the 1940s.
In 1958, the Gibb family moved to Brisbane, Australia and the Brothers Gibb began performing at local nightclubs, and eventually on a local television show. The brothers performed under several names, including the Blue Cats and the Rattlesnakes, also working with Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele. The trio signed their first record deal with Festival Records in 1962 under the name the 'Bee Gees', releasing 'Three Kisses of Love'. The Bee Gees were very popular from the beginning, and eventually released a successful LP, The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs, but mass commercial success eluded them. In 1967, the brothers moved back to England; on the way back, they learned that 'Spicks and Specks' had just topped the Australian charts.
The Bee Gees were soon signed by Robert Stigwood, and soon added Vince Melouney (guitar) and former child actor Colin Petersen (drums). The first British single was 'New York Mining Disaster 1941' (1967), a surreal, haunting and macabre song, it made the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic. The next big single was 'Massachusetts', which launched the trio into superstardom. Bee Gees 1st, the group's first British LP, was critically acclaimed and innovative for its time. 1968 saw two major hits, 'World' and 'I Gotta Get a Message to You'. To many music critics, these are the band's golden years, well before any of their unforgettable disco hits. The Bee Gees at the time were a freakbeat rock and roll band, with strong country and soul influences. This period ended after releasing Odessa (1969), a dense and complex prog rock album. Unable to agree on the first single, Robin left the trio. Barry and Maurice released one LP as a duo, Cucumber Castle (the soundtrack to a television special), while Robin released a solo album, Robin's Reign, on which he did virtually every part, including songwriter, singer, producer and arranger. Melouney and Petersen were gone by the end of Cucumber Castle, and the remaining brothers had a major hit with Don't Forget to Remember. Odessa and Cucumber Castle were not successful, largely because there was no band to support it on TV or live.
Robin returned to the band in 1970, debuting a new pop-progressive rock sound, hitting the American charts with 'Lonely Days' and 'How Can You Mend a Broken Heart'. 2 Years On and Trafalgar. These albums had great return for them. The 'broken-heart' Bee Gees continued and enjoyed a short burst of success with top ten hits like 'Run To Me' (1972) of the disastrously-unprofitable To Whom It May Concern. After an album with no major hit, Life in a Tin Can (1973), the group hit rock bottom with the next album rejected by Stigwood, and in their home country the Bee Gees were generally believed to be finished.
Eric Clapton suggested recording at Criteria Studios, where he had just recorded 461 Ocean Boulevard. The album, Mr. Natural received good reviews and was musically innovative, but did not sell well. However, the Mr. Natural album reawakend their passion for soul music. The band finally found the new sound they had been developing (with their occasional falsetto vocals and disco sound) with their following album, Main Course, which included the massive hit 'Jive Talkin''. The two songs that featured their falsetto-styled voices on the Main Course album were 'Nights on Broadway' and 'Fanny (Be Tender)'. Children of the World followed, with two hits, 'You Should Be Dancing' and 'Love So Right'.
1970s: Saturday Night Fever
After a live album, the Bee Gees agreed to participate in the creation to the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, a forthcoming movie. The album broke multiple records for soundtrack sales, and four Bee Gees hits ('Stayin' Alive', 'How Deep Is Your Love?', 'More Than a Woman', and 'Night Fever') reached #1, launching the most popular age of disco. They also penned the song 'If I Can't Have You' which became a #1 hit for Yvonne Elliman. Such was the popularity of Saturday Night Fever, that two different versions of the song 'More Than A Woman', one by the Bee Gees and another by Tavares, charted simultaneously. This album has since sold over 30 million copies worldwide, making it the best selling soundtrack album of all time. The Bee Gees became bigger than ever before, even outselling The Beatles. During this era, Barry and Robin wrote 'Emotion' for an old friend, 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. The three Bee Gees also starred in the disastrous Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, based on the classic Beatles album published in 1967, though their musical careers escaped from this misjudgement unscathed.
A fourth Gibb, Andy Gibb, also managed to enjoy massive success releasing dance albums. However, disco was rapidly declining in popularity and viability, and a large anti-Bee Gees faction of music listeners had erupted as the 1970s ended. Even so, Spirits Having Flown, their follow-up to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, was a multi-platinum success. Turning away from disco rhythms, it yielded still more Top Ten hits such as 'Tragedy,' 'Too Much Heaven' (originally written for, but not used in, the John Travolta movie 'Moment By Moment'), 'Love You Inside Out,' and the title cut. During the 'Spirits' sessions, the Bee Gees recorded 'Desire' with brother Andy on guest lead vocals, but it was rejected and later appeared on one of Andy's solo albums.
1980s and 1990s
As the decade turned to the 1980s, the Bee Gees' career took a turn towards solo work. Barry released a Solo project called 'Now Voyager'. This project failed to produce any hits. 'Shine', the first, single faded. Robin's attempts at a solo career began with 'How Old Are You'. With Juliet and 'Another Lonely Night In New York' it spawned two European hits, but was met with disappointment in the U.S. Robin then tried his luck again with 'Walls Have Eyes'. It too was a disappointment. The Brothers then did some production work for Barbra Streisand , Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick, who each covered Bee Gees songs, and the group sang backing vocals on several tracks. The Brothers also worked with Kenny Rogers. They wrote and produced Rogers' album 'Eyes that See in the Dark'. This produced the huge hit 'Islands In The Stream' - a duet between Rogers and Dolly Parton. After all these were written for these other artists, Barry Gibb had now written and produced fourteen number one hits. The Bee Gees were successful at writing songs for other artists, but their own recording were not as successful.
The Bee Gees released E.S.P. in 1987 as a comeback album, with the number one song 'You Win Again'; it was well received, and reached number one in the UK and the European continent but failed to impress the United States. On March 10th 1988, Andy Gibb died from heart disease. The Bee Gees' following album, One (1989), was popular in the US again for once, and the title track was a hit. To remember Andy, they put another song on the 'One' album called 'wish you were here'. After 'One' was released, they went on a U.S. tour... following the album 'High Civilization', then went on to a European tour... after the Europe tour, Barry Gibb began to battle a serious back problem. In the early 90s, Barry Gibb wasn't the only Bee Gee living in serious pain... Maurice had a serious drinking problem. To reward his one year of staying sober, him and his wife Yvonne renewed their wedding vows in 1992. Two other things happened in 1992: their father, Hugh, died... and Barry had a baby girl named Alexandra. The Bee Gees released several singles, including 'Paying the Price Of Love', which met with little success. In 1993, they released an album called 'Size isn't everything'. In 1997 they released a new album, Still Waters, which went double platinum, and a new single Alone, was a new hit for the Bee Gees.
In November 1997, Barry had back surgery, but couldn't go on the road as they planned. Even though he was an avid tennis player, he had a heart scare. The Bee Gees performed a live concert in Las Vegas called 'One Night Only', which was shown on Pay-Per-View cable and later shown on HBO (this concert was released on CD a year later as One Night Only). One Night Only sold 5 million copies worldwide.
In 2000, they released what turned out to be their final album as a group, This Is Where I Came In. It gave the opportunity for all three Bee Gees to each contribute a lead vocal. For example, Maurice sings lead on the Beatles-inspired 'Man In The Middle'. Their last live show together was called 'Live By Request', a special shown on A&E. Maurice Gibb, who had been the instrumental leader of the Bee Gees during their final years as a group, died on January 12, 2003 from a cardiac arrest, while in surgery. Some other people believe his death was from Liver damage, leading to a heart attack. Shortly afterwards, his remaining brothers announced that, they intended to go on writing and performing, but there are still doubts if they would use the title, 'The Bee Gees'.
Awards and success
With The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Paul McCartney, the Bee Gees are in the top five of the most successful recording artists of all time, achieving world-wide record sales in excess of 110 million. Their songs have been covered by numerous singers including Elvis, Otis Redding, and newer acts like Steps and Destiny's Child. Songs written by the Gibbs but better known in versions by other artists include, 'If I Can't Have You' by Yvonne Elliman and by Kim Wilde, 'Love Me' by Yvonne Elliman, 'Chain Reaction' by Diana Ross and by Steps, 'Emotion' by Samantha Sang, 'Guilty' by Barbra Streisand, 'Heartbreaker' by Dionne Warwick and 'Islands in the Stream' by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Also, Wyclef Jean adapted the Gibbs' 'Stayin' Alive' into the hit rap single 'We Trying To Stay Alive'.
Over their career, the Bee Gees earned five Grammy Awards and in 1994 all three were individually inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1997, the Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2002, the Bee Gees were made CBEs (Commander of the British Empire) United Kingdom's New Year Honours list. Robin and Barry collected their awards in May 2004, Maurice's son Adam collected for his late father.
Parodies of the Bee Gees
In their heyday the Bee Gees were often parodied, sometimes affectionately. A sketch by Kenny Everett, in which he played all three Gibbs as well as an interviewer, had the Bee Gees answering all of his questions with song quotes. For example:
Interviewer: Now, if I might mention your, what shall we call them, teeth...
Bee Gees (sing): 'Mass-a-chu-ssetts'
Interviewer: Ah, yes, I see...'Mass-o'-chew-sets'. It's a joke.
Bee Gees (sing): 'It's a tragedy!'
They were also parodied by Philip Pope as The Hee Bee Gee Bees, singing 'Meaningless Songs (in Very High Voices)', as well as by David Williams and Matt Lucas in the 'Rock Profile' Show in 2000.
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