The Bee Gees
In over 30 years of latching on to trends, the Bee Gees became one of the wealthiest groups in pop. The three Gibb brothers, sons of English bandleader Hugh Gibb, started performing in 1955, going under such names as the Rattlesnakes and Wee Johnny Hays and the Bluecats. They moved with their parents to Brisbane in 1958 and worked talent shows and other amateur outlets, singing sets of Everly Brothers songs and an occasional Barry Gibb composition, by this time calling themselves the Bee Gees. They signed with Australia's Festival Records in 1962 and released a dozen singles and two albums in the next five years. Then as now, close high harmonies were the Bee Gees' trademark, and the Gibbs wrote their own material.
They hosted a weekly Australian TV show, but their records went unnoticed until 1967, when "Spicks and Specks" hit #1 after the Bee Gees had relocated to England. There they expanded to a quintet with drummer Cohn Peterson and bassist Vince Melouney (both Australians) and found themselves a new manager, Robert Stigwood, then employed by the Beatles' NEMS Enterprises. Their first Northern Hemisphere single, "New York Mining Disaster 1941," was a hit in both the U.K. and the U.S. (#14, 1967) and was followed by a string of equally popular ballads: "To Love Somebody" (#17, 1967), "Holiday" (#16, 1967), "Massachusetts" (#11, 1967), "Words" (#15, 1968), "I've Got to Get a Message to You" (#8, 1968), and "I Started a Joke" (#6, 1969). Their cleancut neo-Edwardian image and English-accented harmonies were a variation on the Beatles' approach, although the Bee Gees leaned toward ornate orchestration and sentimentality.
Cracks in their toothsome facade began to show in 1969, when the nonfamily members left the group (Peterson claiming the Bee Gees name for himself) and reports of excessive lifestyles and fighting among the brothers surfaced. From mid-1969 to late 1970 Robin tried a solo career and had a #2 U.K. hit, "Saved by the Bell." Meanwhile, Barry and Maurice (then married to singer Lulu) recorded Cucumber Castle as a duo and cut some singles individually. The trio reunited for two more hit ballads -- the million sellers "Lonely Days" (#3, 1970) and "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (#1, 1971) -- before bottoming out with a string of flops between 1971 and 1975. Stigwood effected a turnabout by recruiting producer Arif Mardin, who steered them toward R&B and brought them to Miami to work out the funk-plus-falsetto combination that brought them their third round of hits. Main Course (#14, 1976), including "Jive Talkin'" (#1, 1975) and "Nights on Broadway" (#7, 1975), caught disco on the upswing and gave the Bee Gees their first platinum album.
In 1976 Stigwood's RSO label broke away from its parent company, Atlantic, rendering Mardin unavailable to the Bee Gees. Engineer Karl Richardson and arranger Albhy Galuten took over as producers, and the group continued to record with Miami rhythm sections for hits like "You Should Be Dancing" (#1, 1976) and a ballad, "Love So Right" (#3, 1976), which recalled such black vocal groups as the Spinners and the Stylistics rather than the Beatles. Stigwood, meanwhile, had produced the films Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy and asked the Bee Gees for four or five songs he could use in the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever. The soundtrack album, a virtual best-of-disco, included Bee Gees chart-toppers "Stayin' Alive," "Night Fever," and "How Deep Is Your Love," and eventually sold 30 million copies worldwide. Barry, with Galuten and Richardson, also wrote and produced hits for Yvonne Elliman, Samantha Sang, Tavares, Frankie Valli, and younger brother Andy Gibb as well as the title tune for Grease.
In 1978, with Saturday Night Fever still high on the charts, the Bee Gees started Music for UNICEF, donating the royalties from a new song and recruiting other hit-makers to do the same. They also appeared in Stigwood's movie fiasco Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and continued to record. After Saturday Night Fever, even the platinum Spirits Having Flown, with three #1 hits -- "Too Much Heaven," "Tragedy," and "Love You Inside Out" -- seemed anticlimactic. As of 1979, the Bee Gees had made five platinum albums and more than 20 hit singles.
Their career then entered another dry season. In October 1980 the Bee Gees filed a $200-million suit against Stigwood, claiming mismanagement. Meanwhile, Barry produced and sang duets with Barbra Streisand on Guilty (1980). The lawsuit was settled out of court, with mutual public apologies, in May 1981. Living Eyes was the Bee Gees' last album for RSO. They composed the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever's critically dismissed sequel, Stayin' Alive; the soundtrack went to #6 and platinum and included "Woman in You" (#24, 1983). Barry has also written and produced an album for Dionne Warwick, Heartbreaker. With his brothers he cowrote Diana Ross's "Chain Reaction" and the Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton hit, "Islands in the Stream."
In 1987 the Brothers Gibb again joined forces and again retired their singing career with E-S-P which included "You Win Again" (#75, 1987). While these records appeared commercial disappointments in comparison to previous chart showings, in fact this was the case only in the U.S. E-S-P went to #1 in Germany and the Top Five in the U.K. Thus began a third phase of the Bee Gees' history, in which records (such as "You Win Again") would top the charts practically everywhere but in America.
Shattered by the death of their younger brother Andy Gibb in March 1988, the Bee Gees retired for a time, and Maurice suffered a brief relapse of his alcoholism. The group's most recent work continues to fare far better outside the States. High Civilization, which did not even chart in the U.S., hit #2 in Germany and the U.K. Top Thirty; One (German Top Five, U.K. Top Thirty) featured the trio's highest-charting single of the Eighties, "One" (#7, 1989).