Friday, May 18, 2012

The Knights of Music: The Incredibly Illustrious Musical Evolution of The Brothers Gibb

Note: I wrote this blog post only days before Robin Gibb passed on. I had been immersed for a week, prior, in all things Bee Gees –– as I'd been for many, many years, but to a greater degree –– so news of his passing felt even more painful. Deepest sadness and condolences to the Gibb family.
The Bee Gees
Everyone (from every generation living today) knows The Bee Gees, that legendary group comprised of three brothers named Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. We all understand the impact their music has had––and yet, even the most die-hard fan of those Gibb brothers can discover new and intriguing elements in their illustrious careers as songsmiths. There are so many layers to their musical journey. With this post, I'd like to make special note of them. 
The Brothers Gibb: Barry, Robin and Maurice
The Bee Gees have sometimes been taken for granted because their music, and its subsequent associations, overshadowed the actuality of the impeccable work they created out of their pure and unfettered passion for song and melody –– which they delivered in earnest to us, their very lucky listeners. 
In the mid-60's, the trio enlisted help to form a pop band
Even as I'm writing this post, I realize it will be difficult for me to single out some of their songs to showcase their evolution, since they have so many amazing tunes. The sheer number of songs to choose from is mind-blowing. It will be very hard to choose, but I'll try.
The Gibb brothers, happy and in the zone
Once you get through (or scroll through) this post, I'm certain whatever your personal taste might be, you will have discovered something new about The Bee Gees and any level of respect you have for them will have been augmented. Because can you think of any siblings who could have started singing together professionally as small children, then manage to enjoy being around each other, create music together, have their lifelong careers built around one another... for the next five or more decades? 
Starting out: Barry is 9, twins Robin and Maurice are 6
For me, the relationship of these three brothers, alone, is profound and touching. Especially at a moment when Barry, the oldest, has had to wonder if his only living brother Robin will stick around, and I so hope he will pull through. My heart goes out to their families. They lost their youngest brother, Andy, first. Then the second youngest, Maurice. Now Robin is teetering. It's utterly tragic and just seems unfair for one brother –– who loved his brothers so much he'd want to be that connected with them, for his entire life and career –– to have to outlive his younger ones. Again, my hope is Robin continues to pull through to go on and live for many, many more years. I just can't imagine how sad it all must be for Barry Gibb.
The four brothers: with Andy, their youngest brother
Andy, who embarked on a career of his own, was embraced by The Bee Gees as their 'fourth'
That is what stands out for me about this trio of artists, these musicians... Not only were they committed to one another and to their music for longer than most groups, of any kind, but the Gibb brothers always liked being around one another. They could not have achieved the massive feats they did had they not been so perfectly in synch with each other. They've spoken about having had one notable 'breakup' (around the time of their experimental 'Odessa' album, released in 1969 –– over which they had some disputes) after the first 10+ years of their career. Which means they were only around 20-23 years old. It's understandable. 
Working together professionally by this time
Of course they would need to take a break from one another at one point, at some point. But it didn't last long... and after they got back together, they were as tight as ever and never looked back. They surged ahead, developing their sound, becoming the most played (and at one time overplayed) sibling group in the world. So here's a look at how this group, these three close brothers, developed, grew... and flew together to a height in our musical stratosphere where few will ever ascend, if at all.
The Gibb brothers
Here is the first television appearance of Barry (14), Robin (11) and Maurice (11) Gibb, already dubbed The Bee Gees in 1960. Singing 'Time Is Passing By'. Notice how they are so earnest. (They're adorable!) The young boys were inspired to want sing harmonies because of the falsetto groups of the 1950's.

They've grown a little bit more here, singing 'Take Hold of That Star' in 1963.
Robin takes the lead here on 'Out of Time', 1967. Listen to Robin's singing style and you'll notice there was always a uniquely soul-inspired feel to how the Bee Gees sounded vocally.
Barry takes over with 'Spicks and Specks' for the same show in 1967. Notice the screaming girls for Barry. I have to agree, and I'm loving his cleaner version of Keith Richards' style here. In fact, they all look really cool.
Robin taking the lead for the beautiful 'Masachussetts' in 1967.
Here is their performance of 'Words' on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1968.

Promo video for 'Lonely Days'... from 1970.
After the band's temporary breakup, with each brother needing some time on his own, they patched things up and came up with the song 'How Can You Mend A Broken Heart'. They licked their wounds and deliberately healed, together... and they never questioned being a group again. 
This song was essentially about their brotherhood, the fragility and importance of a relationship like theirs, which makes it all the more beautiful for me. They clearly wanted to continue on with the journey they had started together.
Below is one of my personal favorites, 'Run To Me', from 1972. It is so lovely! Just listen. By the way, The Bee Gees were quite content around the late 60's until the early 70's with their melodramatic approach to song lyrics and melodies. They enjoyed the gravity of their music, since there was a uniqueness to it, for that time... and would work on developing a new sound sometime after this. 
Robin, Maurice and Barry Gibb
'Run To Me' is one of those distinctive songs that would be their trademark: perfect melody, beautiful lyrics, stunning vocals. Maurice typically created the melodies and Barry and Robin often wrote songs together. In 'Run To Me', you can hear how they placed two separate songs –– one from Barry and one from Robin –– together, with Maurice weaving his magic through it. That was their process, it's how they worked, and why they worked so well together. 
The brilliant songsmiths at work
'Run To Me' was featured on their album called 'To Whom It May Concern', titled that because they really weren't sure whether they had an audience at that point. The musical landscape had changed dramatically, with other significant groups (like The Beatles) having broken up. The Bee Gees weren't sure what their next step should be. To have this song appear on an album they self-depricatingly figured no one would care about blows my mind... And little did they know they were the ones about to alter the musical landscape, completely, for the latter part of the decade.

The Bee Gees had achieved international fame for well over a decade by this point and (amazingly) they had been singing together for nearly 20 years. The natives of England lived in Australia as children and they enjoyed success both there and once they moved back with their parents to England. They decided to make a big move from living in England to somewhere new to see how they may be inspired by that change. 
The Bee Gees relocated in Miami
At this point, The Bee Gees moved to the U.S... to sunny Miami. The change proved to be good for them and they started to get back into soul music, returning to the roots of their musical journey. As I mentioned before, as children, their favorite music was the falsetto groups of the 1950's. With a new producer and the creative freedom they felt in Miami, they started to make 'black music'.
Fancy medallions and chest hair were on display, but these were men of the 1970's.
In fact, when 'Jive Talkin' (a favorite of mine... well, there are so many from here on out, who can keep track!) hit the airwaves, people had no idea this group was 'that same Bee Gees group' as before. They surprised and confused everyone with their 'new' sound. It was the first time they'd find themselves making (really, taking) the R&B charts. A whole new demographic began to respect these white brothers for their soul (something they simply honed in on, but always had, as evident in their earlier music.) And this was the start of their biggest journey, in which they influenced and steered EVERYONE in their direction. And here we can see and hear The Bee Gees truly in their comfort zone, hitting that sweet spot. It's just plain how relaxed they look, sound and feel creating more soulful tunes.
Next is the song that had been living in my head for the past week or more and got me to decide to just go and write a loving blog post about The Bee Gees, already, and that song is 'Nights on Broadway'. I love this song more than I can even begin to describe. 'Fabulous' is certainly one way to describe it. I'll just say that even the rendition of this song more current audiences have heard on 'Saturday Night Live' is respectful, and good... So it's telling that even if people are being amused by the music and style of The Bee Gees, there's still an innate respect that goes along with that. There has to be, because they're just that great.
Soaring with their new R&B sound
And on the evolutionary note, to get back to the topic here, 'Nights On Broadway' is the song where Barry Gibb discovered just how high his falsetto vocals can go. They were goofing off in the studio and when he hit that high note, they knew something special had happened that would impact everything they would do going forward. So this song was a major turning point and point of self-discovery for The Bee Gees sound and style. They had already recognized and embraced their knack and love for soul music, and they also returned to their love for falsetto groups that inspired them as children. Everything started to come full circle for them in their music to that point of purity and truth. The Bee Gees had finally come into their own by 1975, after 20 years of making music together.
I'm deliberately including 'Stayin' Alive' here because this song is where people's perception of The Bee Gees gets foggy. The Bee Gees had established themselves as viable SOUL artists at this point, when they were contacted about creating songs for the film 'Saturday Night Fever'. 
They were the biggest act of the 1970's
The Bee Gees recorded tunes like 'Night Fever' for the soundtrack (another song I literally worship! If you want to, check out this bizarre fantasy video I made a while ago) since 'You Should Be Dancing' (also love!), a song they had already recorded, was being used in the film for John Travolta's big dancing moment. The producers wondered if The Bee Gees might give them a few more songs to use for the soundtrack. The Bee Gees have said that they themselves weren't into dancing, and they didn't set out to create dance music. And the term 'disco' was in effect only after 'Saturday Night Fever' was released. So all of the songs you hear in that film, on that soundtrack, are in fact the Bee Gees own sound, which was soul or R&B, prior to the concept of disco... but catered to a story about a guy who likes to dance.
The Bee Gees, doing what they loved best
Their new brand of soul music was then rebranded, following the success of the film, as 'disco'. Personally, I love disco and I don't have a problem with it, (partly because I'm not from the generation so saturated by it they became angry) but I'm setting the record straight in terms of timeline. All that the Bee Gees were aware of, about 'Saturday Night Fever', when they created their songs for it was that the story was about a paint store clerk who enjoys going out at night to a nightclub to dance away his troubles. They came up with music with that theme in mind.
Filming a video for 'Stayin' Alive'
Now... with that context in your mind, revisit this great song. 'Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother you're stayin' alive.' In this video, you can literally see how they feel about the song themselves. It's soul music, and they may be strutting a little bit, but they're not dancing. There is much more gravity and seriousness in the way they're feeling about this song at the point when it was brand new –– when the song had not yet been tampered with by public perception for decades to come. And with Barry's falsetto in FULL effect, here's a song about a guy (who incidentally likes to dance) surviving in a tough, crappy world.

The rest we know. After 'Saturday Night Fever' (the film and its soundtrack) was released, The Bee Gees suddenly being the biggest act in the galaxy. And they slowly began to lose credibility they'd worked so hard for and built for so long. They had about 5 or 6 (awesome) top ten hits at a time. They couldn't be stopped. When people had their radios on, there would be several Bee Gees songs playing back to back. They were all amazing songs, so it couldn't have been helped! Still, people grew tired of hearing Bee Gees, Bee Gees, Bee Gees all day and all night. Barry Gibb has described that period like this: "Fever was No. 1 every week ... It wasn't just like a hit album. It was No. 1 every single week for 25 weeks. It was just an amazing, crazy, extraordinary time. I remember not being able to answer the phone, and I remember people climbing over my walls. I was quite grateful when it stopped. It was too unreal. In the long run, your life is better if it's not like that on a constant basis. Nice though it was." Then came a point where deejays offered 'Bee Gees Free Weekends' to the frustrated public. Hard to imagine people growing that tired of their music, but that's what happened.
Greatness, cubed
Personally, I don't see the problem ;)... Here are some of my favorites. 'How Deep is Your Love' is pure perfection, with all the respective strengths of Barry, Robin and Maurice on gorgeous display. It's by far one of the world's all-time most romantic songs, in my opinion. In my freshman year at college, I'd sit in my dorm room and play this song on repeat and just fantasize about the 70's and go wherever this romantic song would take me. It doesn't matter how many times I've heard this song, it remains fresh.
And their collective skills can't have gotten any more lush and stunning than with 'Too Much Heaven', from 1979.
In a way, they got 'too much heaven' from their fans. People wanted to hear less and less from The Bee Gees by the end of the decade. And what's interesting is that the Bee Gees themselves empathized with that sentiment and willingly stepped away from the scene by the time 1980 rolled around. They figured they'll just write music for other people. They enjoyed writing and creating songs. So even if they weren't in front of the music, they were happy to step back and steer other artists with their gifts. That takes wisdom and insight... to want to step away from the spotlight at the height of their popularity, as much as they deserved to be in it, for the health and sake of their music. They just did what they had to do. 
All for the love of music
Fortunately for me, I've only experienced hearing a Bee Gees song and thinking, 'Oh, that is so nice, I love that.' Which is a good thing, because The Bee Gees made music that –– considered on its own –– was truly phenomenal. That they became an international phenomenon was no accident. It took years of earnest, hard work to achieve what they did in the mid-to-late-1970's. They belonged at the top of the heap for their collective efforts. They were, as I've dubbed them here, 'The Knights of Music'. And to me they still are. No other act comprised of three brothers will ever achieve the heights of The Brothers Gibb.
The Bee Gees are 'The Knights of Music'
And... they continued to evolve from there. This blog post is already massive, but I might still add an assortment of their hits from after they 'peaked'. As far as I'm concerned, they'll always be soaring at music's greatest heights.


  1. I feel very heavy-hearted at this loss, somewhat expected but still so very sad. My condolences to the Gibb family, must have been very hard to say goodbye. RIP Robin. Thank you for the music.

  2. They are a true timeless legend!

  3. You're right, Yan -- their music is timeless indeed :)