1955–1966: Music origins, Bee Gees formation and popularity in Australia
Plaque at Maitland Terrace/Strang Road intersection in Union Mills, Isle of Man
In 1955, the brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb moved back to their father Hugh Gibb's hometown of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, England, and formed a skiffle/rock-and-roll group, the Rattlesnakes, which consisted of Barry on guitar and vocals, Robin and Maurice on vocals, and friends Paul Frost on drums and Kenny Horrocks on tea-chest bass. In December 1957, the boys began to sing in harmony. The story is told that they were going to lip sync to a record in the local Gaumont cinema (as other children had done on previous weeks), but as they were running to the theatre, the fragile shellac 78-RPM record broke. The brothers had to sing live and received such a positive response from the audience that they decided to pursue a singing career. In May 1958, the Rattlesnakes were disbanded when Frost and Horrocks left, so the Gibb brothers then formed Wee Johnny Hayes and the Blue Cats, with Barry as Johnny Hayes.
In August 1958, the Gibb family, including older sister Lesley and infant brother Andy, emigrated to Redcliffe, just north-east of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. The young brothers began performing to raise pocket money. They were introduced to leading Brisbane radio DJ Bill Gates by speedway promoter and driver Bill Goode, who had hired the brothers to entertain the crowd at the Redcliffe Speedway in 1960. The crowd at the speedway would throw money onto the track for the boys, who generally performed during the interval of meetings (usually on the back of a truck that drove around the track), and in a deal with Goode, any money they collected from the crowd they were allowed to keep. Gates renamed them the BGs (later changed to "Bee Gees") after his, Goode's and Barry Gibb's initials. The name was not specifically a reference to "Brothers Gibb", despite popular belief.
The family moved to a house at Cribb Island which was later demolished to allow the expansion of Brisbane Airport. While there, the brothers attended Northgate State School.
By 1960, the Bee Gees were featured on television shows, including their performance of "Time Is Passing By". In the next few years they began working regularly at resorts on the Queensland coast. For his songwriting, Barry sparked the interest of Australian star Col Joye, who helped them get a recording deal in 1963 with Festival Records subsidiary Leedon Records, under the name "Bee Gees". The three released two or three singles a year, while Barry supplied additional songs to other Australian artists. In 1962, the Bee Gees were chosen as the supporting act for Chubby Checker's concert at Sydney Stadium.
From 1963 to 1966, the Gibb family lived at 171 Bunnerong Road, Maroubra in Sydney. Just prior to his death, Robin Gibb recorded the song "Sydney", about the brothers' experience of living in that city. It was released on his posthumous album 50 St. Catherine's Drive. The house was demolished in 2016.
A minor hit in 1965, "Wine and Women", led to the group's first LP, The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs. By 1966 Festival was, however, on the verge of dropping them from the Leedon roster because of their perceived lack of commercial success. It was at this time that they met the American-born songwriter, producer and entrepreneur
Nat Kipner, who had just been appointed A&R manager of a new independent label, Spin Records. Kipner briefly took over as the group's manager and successfully negotiated their transfer to Spin in exchange for granting Festival the Australian distribution rights to the group's recordings. Through Kipner the Bee Gees met engineer-producer, Ossie Byrne, who produced (or co-produced with Kipner) many of the earlier Spin recordings, most of which were cut at his own small, self-built St Clair Studio in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville. Byrne gave the Gibb brothers virtually unlimited access to St Clair Studio over a period of several months in mid-1966. The group later acknowledged that this enabled them to greatly improve their skills as recording artists. During this productive time they recorded a large batch of original material—including the song that would become their first major hit, "Spicks and Specks" (on which Byrne played the trumpet coda)—as well as cover versions of current hits by overseas acts such as the Beatles. They regularly collaborated with other local musicians, including members of beat band Steve & The Board, led by Steve Kipner, Nat's teenage son.
Frustrated by their lack of success, the Gibbs decided to return to England in late 1966. Ossie Byrne travelled with them, and Colin Petersen, who eventually became the group's drummer, followed soon afterward. While at sea in January 1967, the Gibbs learned that "Spicks and Specks" had been awarded Best Single of the Year by Go-Set, Australia's most popular and influential music newspaper.
1967–1969: International fame and touring years
Bee Gees' 1st, Horizontal and Idea
The Bee Gees in 1967 (left to right: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Vince Melouney, Maurice Gibb and Colin Petersen)
Before their departure from Australia to England, Hugh Gibb sent demos to Brian Epstein, who managed the Beatles and directed NEMS, a British music store. Epstein passed the demo tapes to Robert Stigwood, who had recently joined NEMS. After an audition with Stigwood in February 1967, the Bee Gees signed a five-year contract whereby Polydor Records would release their records in the UK, and Atco Records would do so in the US. Work quickly began on the group's first international album, and Stigwood launched a promotional campaign to coincide with its release.
Stigwood proclaimed that the Bee Gees were "The Most Significant New Talent of 1967", thus initiating the comparison of the Bee Gees to the Beatles. Before recording the first album, the group expanded to include Colin Petersen and Vince Melouney. "New York Mining Disaster 1941", their second British single (their first-issued UK 45 rpm was "Spicks and Specks"), was issued to radio stations with a blank white label listing only the song title. Some DJs immediately assumed this was a new single by the Beatles and started playing the song in heavy rotation. This helped the song climb into the top 20 in both the UK and US.
No such chicanery was needed to boost the Bee Gees' second single, "To Love Somebody", into the US Top 20. Originally written for Otis Redding, "To Love Somebody", a soulful ballad sung by Barry, has since become a pop standard covered by many artists including the Flying Burrito Brothers, Rod Stewart, Bonnie Tyler, Janis Joplin, the Animals, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Nina Simone, Jimmy Somerville, Billy Corgan and Michael Bolton. Another single, "Holiday", released in the US, peaked at No. 16.
The parent album, Bee Gees 1st (their first internationally), peaked at No. 7 in the US and No. 8 in the UK. Bill Shepherd was credited as the arranger. After recording that album, the group recorded their first BBC session at the Playhouse Theatre, Northumberland Avenue, in London, with Bill Bebb as the producer, and they performed three songs. That session is included on BBC Sessions: 1967–1973 (2008).
Following the release of Bee Gees' 1st, the group was first introduced in New York as "the English surprise". At that time, the band made their first British TV appearance on Top of the Pops. Maurice recalled:
||Jimmy Savile was on it and that was amazing because we'd seen pictures of him in the Beatles fan club book, so we thought we were really there! That show had Lulu, us, the Move, and the Stones doing 'Let's Spend the Night Together'. You have to remember this was really before the superstar was invented so you were all in it together.
In late 1967, they began recording for the second album. On 21 December 1967, for a live broadcast from Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, they performed their own song, "Thank You For Christmas" (which was recorded in the Horizontal sessions but was not released until 2008), as well as "Silent Night" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". The folk group the Settlers also performed on that programme and were conducted by the Very Reverend Edward H. Patey, dean of the cathedral. Ten days later, the band finished the year off with their Christmas Eve special, How on Earth?
January 1968 began with a promotional trip to the US. Los Angeles Police was on alert in anticipation of a Beatles-type reception, and special security arrangements were being put in place. In February, Horizontal repeated the success of their first album, featuring the group's first UK No. 1 single "Massachusetts" (a No. 11 US hit) and the No. 7 UK single "World". The sound of the album Horizontal had a more "rock" sound than their previous release, although ballads like "And the Sun Will Shine" and "Really and Sincerely" were also prominent. The Horizontal album reached No. 12 in the US and No. 16 in the UK.
Promoting the record, the group made their first appearance on US television on The Smothers Brothers Show, on CBS. Tommy Smothers had first encountered the band on a trip to London, and became their friend as well as a fan. That evening, Smothers wore a shirt which Maurice had bought for him at the Beatles' Apple Boutique.
With the release of Horizontal, they also embarked on a Scandinavian tour with concerts in Copenhagen. Around the same time, the Bee Gees turned down an offer to write and perform the soundtrack for the film Wonderwall, according to director Joe Massot.
On 27 February 1968, the band, backed by the 17-piece Massachusetts String Orchestra, began their first tour of Germany with two concerts at Hamburg Musikhalle. In March 1968, the band was supported by Procol Harum (who had a well-known hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale") on their German tour. As Robin's partner Molly Hullis recalls: "Germans were wilder than the fans in England at the heights of Beatlemania." The tour schedule took them to 11 venues in as many days with 18 concerts played, finishing with a brace of shows at the Stadthalle, Braunschweig.
After that, the group was off to Switzerland. As Maurice described it:
||There were over 5,000 kids at the airport in Zurich. The entire ride to Bern, the kids were waving Union Jacks. When we got to the hotel, the police weren't there to meet us and the kids crushed the car. We were inside and the windows were all getting smashed in, and we were on the floor.
On 17 March, the band performed "Words" on The Ed Sullivan Show. The other artists who performed on that night's show were Lucille Ball, George Hamilton and Fran Jeffries. On 27 March 1968, the band performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
The Bee Gees performing on Dutch television Twien
Two more singles followed in early 1968: the ballad "Words" (No. 8 UK, No. 15 US) and the double A-sided single "Jumbo" b/w "The Singer Sang His Song". "Jumbo", the Bee Gees' least successful single to date, only reached No. 25 in the UK and No. 57 in the US. The Bee Gees felt "The Singer Sang His Song" was the stronger of the two sides, an opinion shared by listeners in the Netherlands who made it a No. 3 hit.
Further Bee Gees chart singles followed: "I've Gotta Get a Message to You", their second UK No. 1 (No. 8 US), and "I Started a Joke" (No. 6 US), both culled from the band's third album Idea. Idea reached No. 4 in the UK and was another top 20 album in the US (No. 17).
Following the tour and TV special to promote the album, Vince Melouney left the group, desiring to play more of a blues style music than the Gibbs were writing. Melouney did achieve one feat while with the Bee Gees: his composition "Such a Shame" (from Idea) is the only song on any Bee Gees album not written by a Gibb brother.
The group also filmed a BBC television special with Frankie Howerd, called Frankie Howerd Meets the Bee Gees, written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. This gave the group the opportunity to display their comedy skills in sketches with Howerd.
The band were due to begin a seven-week tour of the US on 2 August 1968, but on 27 July, Robin collapsed and fell unconscious. He was admitted to a London nursing home suffering from nervous exhaustion, and the American tour was postponed. The band began recording their sixth album, which resulted in their spending a week recording at Atlantic Studios in New York. Robin, still feeling poorly, missed the New York sessions, but the rest of the band put away instrumental tracks and demos.
Odessa, Cucumber Castle and breakup
The Bee Gees performing at The Tom Jones Show
in early 1969, one of the last performances with Robin as he left the group later in March
By 1969, the cracks started to show within the group, as Robin began to feel that Stigwood had been favouring Barry as the frontman.
The Bee Gees' performances in early 1969 on the Top of the Pops and The Tom Jones Show performing "I Started a Joke" and "First of May" as a medley was one of the last live performances of the group with Robin.
Their next album, which was to have been a concept album called Masterpeace, evolved into the double-album Odessa. Most rock critics felt this was the best Bee Gees album of the 1960s with its progressive rock feel on the title track, the country-flavoured "Marley Purt Drive" and "Give Your Best", and ballads such as "Melody Fair" and "First of May" (the last of which became the only single from the album and a UK # 6 hit). Feeling the flipside, "Lamplight", should have been the A-side, Robin quit the group in mid-1969 and launched a solo career.
The first of many Bee Gees compilations, Best of Bee Gees, was released featuring the non-LP single "Words" plus the Australian hit "Spicks and Specks". The single "Tomorrow Tomorrow" was also released and was a moderate hit in the UK, where it reached No. 23, but it was only No. 54 in the US. The compilation reached the top 10 in both the UK and the US.
While Robin pursued his solo career, Barry, Maurice and Petersen continued on as the Bee Gees recording their next album, Cucumber Castle. The band made their debut performance without Robin at Talk of the Town. They had recruited their sister,
Lesley, into the group at this time.
To accompany the album, they also filmed a TV special which aired on the BBC in 1971. Petersen played drums on the tracks recorded for the album but was fired from the group after filming began (he went on to form the Humpy Bong with Jonathan Kelly). His parts were edited out of the final cut of the film and Pentangle drummer Terry Cox was recruited to complete the recording of songs for the album.
After the album was released in early 1970, it seemed that the Bee Gees were finished. The leadoff single, "Don't Forget to Remember", was a big hit in the UK, reaching No. 2, but a disappointment in the US, only reaching No. 73. The next two singles, "I.O.I.O." and "If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else" barely scraped the charts. On 1 December 1969, Barry and Maurice parted ways professionally.
Maurice started to record his first solo album, The Loner, which was not released. Meanwhile, he released the single "Railroad" and starred in the West End musical, Sing a Rude Song. In February 1970, Barry recorded a solo album which never saw official release either, although "I'll Kiss Your Memory" was released as a single backed by "This Time" without much interest. Meanwhile, Robin saw success in Europe with his No. 2 hit "Saved by the Bell" and the album Robin's Reign.
The Bee Gees performing at The Midnight Special
In the summer of 1970, according to Barry, "Robin rang me in Spain where I was on holiday [saying] 'let's do it again'". By 21 August 1970, after they had reunited, Barry announced that the Bee Gees "are there and they will never, ever part again". Maurice said, "We just discussed it and re-formed. We want to apologise publicly to Robin for the things that have been said." Earlier in June 1970, Robin and Maurice recorded a dozen songs before Barry joined and included two songs that were on their reunion album. Around the same time, Barry and Robin were about to publish the book, On the Other Hand. They also recruited Geoff Bridgford as the group's official drummer; Bridgford had previously worked with the Groove and Tin Tin, and played drums on Maurice's unreleased first solo album.
In 1970, 2 Years On was released in October in the US and November in the UK. The lead single "Lonely Days" reached No. 3 in the United States, promoted by appearances on The Johnny Cash Show, Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, The Andy Williams Show, The Dick Cavett Show and The Ed Sullivan Show.
Their ninth album, Trafalgar, was released in late 1971. The single "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" was the first to hit No. 1 on the US charts, while "Israel" reached No. 22 in the Netherlands. "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" also brought the Bee Gees their first Grammy Award nomination for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Later that year, the group's songs were included in the soundtrack for the film Melody.
In 1972, they hit No. 16 in the US with the non-album single "My World", backed by Maurice's composition "On Time". Another 1972 single, "Run to Me" from the LP To Whom It May Concern, returned them to the UK top 10 for the first time in three years. On 24 November 1972, the band headlined the "Woodstock of the West" Festival at the Los Angeles Coliseum (which was a West Coast answer to Woodstock in New York), which also featured Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and the Eagles. Also in 1972, the group sang "Hey Jude" with Wilson Pickett.
By 1973, however, the Bee Gees were in a rut. The album, Life in a Tin Can, released on Robert Stigwood's newly formed RSO Records, and its lead-off single, "Saw a New Morning", sold poorly with the single peaking at No. 94. This was followed by an unreleased album (known as A Kick in the Head Is Worth Eight in the Pants). A second compilation album, Best of Bee Gees, Volume 2, was released in 1973, although it did not repeat the success of Volume 1. On the 6 April 1973 episode of The Midnight Special they performed "Money (That's What I Want)" with Jerry Lee Lewis. Also in 1973, they were invited by Chuck Berry to perform two songs with him onstage at The Midnight Special: "Johnny B. Goode" and "Reelin' and Rockin'".
After a tour of the United States in early 1974 and a Canadian tour later in the year, the group ended up playing small clubs. As Barry joked, "We ended up in, have you ever heard of Batley's the variety club in (West Yorkshire) England?".
On the advice of Ahmet Ertegün, head of their US label Atlantic Records, Stigwood arranged for the group to record with soul music producer Arif Mardin. The resulting LP, Mr. Natural, included fewer ballads and foreshadowed the R&B direction of the rest of their career.
When it, too, failed to attract much interest, Mardin encouraged them to work within the soul music style. The brothers attempted to assemble a live stage band that could replicate their studio sound. Lead guitarist Alan Kendall had come on board in 1971 but did not have much to do until Mr. Natural. For that album, they added drummer Dennis Bryon, and they later added ex-Strawbs keyboard player Blue Weaver, completing the Bee Gees band that lasted through the late '70s. Maurice, who had previously performed on piano, guitar, harpsichord, electric piano, organ, mellotron and bass guitar, as well as mandolin and Moog synthesiser, now confined himself to bass onstage.
1975–1979: Turning to disco
Main Course and Children of the World
Bee Gees' wordmark logo (1975–81)
At Eric Clapton's suggestion, the brothers moved to Miami, Florida, early in 1975 to record. After starting off with ballads, they eventually heeded the urging of Mardin and Stigwood, and crafted more dance-oriented disco songs, including their second US No. 1, "Jive Talkin'", along with US No. 7 "Nights on Broadway". The band liked the resulting new sound. This time the public agreed by sending the LP Main Course up the charts. This album included the first Bee Gees songs wherein Barry used falsetto, something that would later become a trademark of the band. This was also the first Bee Gees album to have two US top-10 singles since 1968's Idea. Main Course also became their first charting R&B album.
On the Bee Gees' appearance on The Midnight Special in 1975, to promote Main Course, they sang "To Love Somebody" with Helen Reddy. Around the same time, the Bee Gees recorded three Beatles covers—"Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight", "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" with Barry providing lead vocals, and "Sun King" with Maurice providing lead vocals, for the unsuccessful musical/documentary All This and World War II.
The next album, Children of the World released in September 1976, was drenched in Barry's new-found falsetto and Weaver's synthesizer disco licks. Mardin was unavailable to produce, so the Bee Gees enlisted Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson, who had worked with Mardin during the Main Course sessions. This production team would carry the Bee Gees through the rest of the 1970s.
The first single from the album was "You Should Be Dancing" (which features percussion work by musician Stephen Stills). The song pushed the Bee Gees to a level of stardom they had not previously achieved in the US, though their new R&B/disco sound was not as popular with some die hard fans. The pop ballad "Love So Right" reached No. 3 in the US, and "Boogie Child" reached US No. 12 in January 1977. The album peaked at No. 8 in the US.
A compilation Bee Gees Gold was released in November, containing the group's hits from 1967 to 1972.
Saturday Night Fever and Spirits Having Flown
Following a successful live album, Here at Last... Bee Gees... Live, the Bee Gees agreed with Stigwood to participate in the creation of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. It would be the turning point of their career. The cultural impact of both the film and the soundtrack was seismic throughout the world, prolonging the disco scene's mainstream appeal.
The band's involvement in the film did not begin until post-production. As John Travolta asserted, "The Bee Gees weren't even involved in the movie in the beginning ... I was dancing to Stevie Wonder and Boz Scaggs." Producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to create the songs for the film. The brothers wrote the songs "virtually in a single weekend" at Château d'Hérouville studio in France. Barry Gibb remembered the reaction when Stigwood and music supervisor Bill Oakes arrived and listened to the demos:
They flipped out and said these will be great. We still had no concept of the movie, except some kind of rough script that they'd brought with them ... You've got to remember, we were fairly dead in the water at that point, 1975, somewhere in that zone — the Bee Gees' sound was basically tired. We needed something new. We hadn't had a hit record in about three years. So we felt, Oh Jeez, that's it. That's our life span, like most groups in the late '60s. So, we had to find something. We didn't know what was going to happen.
Bill Oakes, who supervised the soundtrack, asserts that Saturday Night Fever did not begin the disco craze; rather, it prolonged it: "Disco had run its course. These days, Fever is credited with kicking off the whole disco thing—it really didn't. Truth is, it breathed new life into a genre that was actually dying."
Three Bee Gees singles—"How Deep Is Your Love" (US No. 1, UK No. 3), "Stayin' Alive" (US No. 1, UK No. 4) and "Night Fever" (US No. 1, UK No. 1)—charted high in many countries around the world, launching the most popular period of the disco era. They also penned the song "If I Can't Have You", which became a US No. 1 hit for Yvonne Elliman, while the Bee Gees' own version was the B-side of "Stayin' Alive". Such was the popularity of Saturday Night Fever that two different versions of the song "More Than a Woman" received airplay, one by the Bee Gees, which was relegated to an album track, and another by Tavares, which was the hit.
The Gibb sound was inescapable. During a nine-month period beginning in the Christmas season of 1977, seven songs written by the brothers held the No. 1 position on the US charts for 27 of 37 consecutive weeks: three of their own releases, two for brother Andy Gibb, the Yvonne Elliman single, and "Grease", performed by Frankie Valli.
Fuelled by the film's success, the soundtrack broke multiple industry records, becoming the highest-selling album in recording history to that point. With more than 40 million copies sold, Saturday Night Fever is among music's top five best selling soundtrack albums. As of 2010, it is calculated as the fourth highest-selling album worldwide.
In March 1978, the Bee Gees held the top two positions on the US charts with "Night Fever" and "Stayin' Alive", the first time this had happened since the Beatles. On the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for 25 March 1978, five songs written by the Gibbs were in the US top 10 at the same time: "Night Fever", "Stayin' Alive", "If I Can't Have You", "Emotion" and "Love Is Thicker Than Water". Such chart dominance had not been seen since April 1964, when the Beatles had all five of the top five American singles. Barry Gibb became the only songwriter to have four consecutive number-one hits in the US, breaking the John Lennon and Paul McCartney 1964 record. These songs were "Stayin' Alive", "Love Is Thicker Than Water", "Night Fever" and "If I Can't Have You".
The Bee Gees won five Grammy Awards for Saturday Night Fever over two years: Album of the Year, Producer of the Year (with Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson), two awards for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (one in 1978 for "How Deep Is Your Love" and one in 1979 for "Stayin' Alive"), and Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices for "Stayin' Alive".
During this era, Barry and Robin also wrote "Emotion" for an old friend, Australian vocalist Samantha Sang, who made it a top 10 hit, with the Bee Gees singing backing vocals. Barry also wrote the title song to the film version of the Broadway musical Grease for Frankie Valli to perform, which went to No. 1.
The Bee Gees' younger brother Andy now followed his older siblings into a music career and enjoyed considerable success. Produced by Barry, Andy Gibb's first three singles all topped the US charts.
The Bee Gees also co-starred with Peter Frampton in Robert Stigwood's film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), loosely inspired by the classic 1967 album by The Beatles. The movie had been heavily promoted prior to release and was expected to enjoy great commercial success. However, it was savaged by film critics as a disjointed mess and ignored by the public. Though some of its tracks charted, the soundtrack too was a high-profile flop. The single "Oh! Darling", credited to Robin Gibb, reached No. 15 in the US.
The Bee Gees' follow-up to Saturday Night Fever was the Spirits Having Flown album. It yielded three more hits: "Too Much Heaven" (US No. 1, UK No. 3), "Tragedy" (US No. 1, UK No. 1), and "Love You Inside Out" (US No. 1). This gave the act six consecutive No. 1 singles in the US within a year and a half, equalling the Beatles and surpassed only by Whitney Houston.
In January 1979, the Bee Gees performed "Too Much Heaven" as their contribution to the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly, a benefit organised by the Bee Gees, Robert Stigwood, and David Frost for UNICEF that was broadcast worldwide. The brothers donated the royalties from the song to the charity. Up to 2007, this song has earned over $11 million for UNICEF.
During the summer of 1979, the Bee Gees embarked on their largest concert tour covering the US and Canada. The Spirits Having Flown tour capitalised on Bee Gees fever that was sweeping the nation, with sold-out concerts in 38 cities. The Bee Gees produced a video for the title track "Too Much Heaven", directed by Miami-based filmmaker Martin Pitts and produced by Charles Allen. With this video, Pitts and Allen began a long association with the brothers.
The Bee Gees even had a country hit in 1979 with "Rest Your Love on Me", the flip side of their pop hit "Too Much Heaven", which made the top 40 on the country charts. It was also a 1981 hit for Conway Twitty, topping the country music charts.
The Bee Gees' overwhelming success rose and fell with the disco bubble. By the end of 1979, disco was rapidly declining in popularity, and the backlash against disco put the Bee Gees' American career in a tailspin. Radio stations around the US began promoting "Bee Gee-Free Weekends". Following their remarkable run from 1975 to 1979, the act would have only one more top 10 single in the US, and that would not come until 1989.
Barry Gibb considered the success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack both a blessing and a curse:
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.
1980–1986: Outside projects, band turmoil, solo efforts and decline
Robin co-produced Jimmy Ruffin's Sunrise released in May 1980, but the songs were started in 1979; the album contains songs written by the Gibb brothers.
In March 1980, Barry Gibb worked with Barbra Streisand on her album Guilty. He co-produced, and wrote or co-wrote all nine of the album's tracks (four of them written with Robin, and the title track with both Robin and Maurice). Barry also appeared on the album's cover with Streisand and duetted with her on two tracks. The album reached No. 1 in both the US and the UK, as did the single "Woman in Love" (written by Barry and Robin), becoming Streisand's most successful single and album to date. Both of the Streisand/Gibb duets, "Guilty" and "What Kind of Fool", also reached the US Top 10.
In October, the Bee Gees regrouped to record songs that would go on to their upcoming album, but it was not continued, and Weaver, Kendall (who returned in 1987), and Bryon left the group. The brothers later recruited some studio musicians.
In 1981, the Bee Gees released the album Living Eyes, their last full-length album release on RSO. This album was the first CD ever played in public, when it was played to viewers of the BBC show Tomorrow's World. With the disco backlash still running strong, the album failed to make the UK or US Top 40—breaking their streak of Top 40 hits, which started in 1975 with "Jive Talkin'". Two singles from the album fared little better—"He's a Liar", which reached No. 30 in the US, and "Living Eyes", which reached No. 45.
In 1982, Dionne Warwick enjoyed a UK No. 2 and US Adult Contemporary No. 1 hit with her comeback single, "Heartbreaker", taken from her eponymous album written largely by the Bee Gees and co-produced by Barry Gibb. The album reached No. 3 in the UK and the Top 30 in the US, where it was certified Gold.
A year later, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers recorded the Bee Gees-penned track "Islands in the Stream", which became a US No. 1 hit and entered the Top 10 in the UK. Rogers' 1983 album, Eyes That See in the Dark, was written entirely by the Bee Gees and co-produced by Barry. The album was a Top 10 hit in the US and was certified Double Platinum.
The Bee Gees had greater success with the soundtrack to Staying Alive in 1983, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever. The soundtrack was certified platinum in the US, and included their Top 30 hit "The Woman in You".
Also in 1983, the band was sued by Chicago songwriter Ronald Selle, who claimed the brothers stole melodic material from one of his songs, "Let It End", and used it in "How Deep Is Your Love". At first, the Bee Gees lost the case; one juror said that a factor in the jury's decision was the Gibbs' failure to introduce expert testimony rebutting the plaintiff's expert testimony that it was "impossible" for the two songs to have been written independently. However, the verdict was overturned a few months later.
In August 1983, Barry signed a solo deal with MCA Records and spent much of late 1983 and 1984 writing songs for this first solo effort, Now Voyager. Robin released three solo albums in the '80s, How Old Are You?, Secret Agent and Walls Have Eyes. And Maurice released his second single to date, "Hold Her in Your Hand", for the first time since 1970.
In 1985, Diana Ross released the album Eaten Alive, written by the Bee Gees, with the title track co-written with Michael Jackson (who also performed on the track). The album was again co-produced by Barry Gibb, and the single "Chain Reaction" gave Ross a UK and Australian No. 1 hit.
1987–1999: Comeback, return to popularity and Andy's death
The Bee Gees released the album E.S.P. in 1987, which sold over 3 million copies. It was their first album in six years, and their first for Warner Bros. Records. The single "You Win Again" went to No. 1 in numerous countries, including the UK, and made the Bee Gees the first group to score a UK No. 1 hit in each of three decades: the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The single was a disappointment in the US, charting at No. 75, and the Bee Gees voiced their frustration over American radio stations not playing their new European hit single, an omission which the group felt led to poor sales of their current album in the US. The song won the Bee Gees the 1987 British Academy's Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically, and in February 1988 the band received a Brit Award nomination for Best British Group.
On 10 March 1988, younger brother Andy Gibb died, aged 30, as a result of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle due to a recent viral infection. His brothers acknowledge that Andy's past drug and alcohol use probably made his heart more susceptible to this illness. Just before Andy's death, the brothers had decided that Andy would join them, which would have made them a four-member group. Instead, the Bee Gees got together with Eric Clapton to create a group called 'the Bunburys' to raise money for English charities. The group recorded three songs for The Bunbury Tails: “We’re the Bunburys”, “Bunbury Afternoon”, and “Fight (No Matter How Long)”. The last song reached No. 8 on the rock music chart and appeared on The 1988 Summer Olympics Album. The Bee Gees' following album, One (1989), featured a song dedicated to Andy, "Wish You Were Here". The album also contained their first US Top 10 hit (No. 7) in a decade, "One" (an Adult Contemporary No. 1). After the album's release, the band embarked on its first world tour in 10 years.
In 1990, Polydor Records issued the box set Tales from the Brothers Gibb: A History in Song, which contains all singles released (except 1981's "Living Eyes"), rare B-sides, unreleased tracks, solo material and live performances. Many songs received new stereo mixes by Bill Inglot, and some songs made their CD debut. At the time of its release, Tales was one of the first box sets issued in the music business, and it was considered an honour for a group to have one.
In the UK, Polydor issued a single-disc hits collection from Tales called The Very Best of the Bee Gees, which contained their biggest UK hits. The album became one of their best-selling albums in that country, and was eventually certified Triple Platinum.
Bee Gees in Los Angeles in 1992
Following their next album, High Civilization (1991), which contained the UK top five hit "Secret Love", the Bee Gees went on a European tour. After the tour, Barry Gibb began to battle a serious back problem, which required surgery. In addition, he suffered from arthritis, which at one point was so severe that it was doubtful that he would be able to play guitar for much longer. Also in the early 1990s, Maurice Gibb finally sought treatment for his alcoholism, which he had battled for many years with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In 1993, the group returned to the Polydor label and released the album Size Isn't Everything, which contained the UK top five hit "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Success still eluded them in the US, however, as the first single released, "Paying the Price of Love", only managed to reach No. 74 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the parent album stalled at No. 153.
In 1997, they released the album Still Waters, which sold over four million copies and reached No. 2 in the UK (their highest album chart position there since 1979) and No. 11 in the US. The album's first single, "Alone", gave them another UK Top 5 hit and a top 30 hit in the US. Still Waters would be the band's most successful US release of their post-RSO era.
At the 1997 BRIT Awards held in Earls Court, London on 24 February, the Bee Gees received the award for Outstanding Contribution to Music. On 14 November 1997, the Bee Gees performed a live concert in Las Vegas called One Night Only. The show included a performance of "Our Love (Don't Throw It All Away)" synchronised with a vocal by their deceased brother Andy and a cameo appearance by Celine Dion singing "Immortality". The CD of the performance sold over 5 million copies. The "One Night Only" name grew out of the band's declaration that, due to Barry's health issues, the Las Vegas show was to be the final live performance of their career. After the immensely positive audience response to the Vegas concert, Barry decided to continue despite the pain, and the concert expanded into their last full-blown world tour of "One Night Only" concerts. The tour included playing to 56,000 people at London's Wembley Stadium on 5 September 1998 and concluded in the newly built Olympic Stadium in Sydney, Australia on 27 March 1999 to 72,000 people.
In 1998, the group's soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever was incorporated into a stage production produced first in the West End and then on Broadway. They wrote three new songs for the adaptation. Also in 1998 the brothers recorded Ellan Vannin for Manx charities. Known as the unofficial national anthem of the Isle of Man, the brothers performed the song during their world tour to reflect their pride in the place of their birth.
The Bee Gees closed the decade with what turned out to be their last full-sized concert, known as BG2K, on 31 December 1999.
2000–2008: This Is Where I Came In and Maurice's death
In 2001, the group released what turned out to be their final album of new material as a group, This Is Where I Came In. The album was another success, reaching the Top 10 in the UK (being certified Gold), and the Top 20 in the US. The title track was also a UK Top 20 hit single. The album gave each member of the group a chance to write in his own way, as well as composing songs together. For example, Maurice's compositions and leads are "Man in the Middle" and "Walking on Air", while Robin contributed "Déjà Vu", "Promise the Earth", and "Embrace", and Barry contributed "Loose Talk Costs Lives", "Technicolour Dreams" and "Voice in the Wilderness". The other songs are collaborative in writing and vocals. They performed many tracks from This Is Where I Came In, plus many of their biggest hits, on the live televised concert series Live by Request, shown on the A&E Network. The last concert of the Bee Gees as a trio was at the Love and Hope Ball in 2002.
Maurice, who had been the musical director of the Bee Gees during their final years as a group, died unexpectedly on 12 January 2003, at age 53, from a heart attack, while awaiting emergency surgery to repair a strangulated intestine. Initially, his surviving brothers announced that they intended to carry on the name "Bee Gees" in his memory, but as time passed they decided to retire the group's name, leaving it to represent the three brothers together.
The same week that Maurice died, Robin's solo album Magnet was released. On 23 February 2003, the Bee Gees received the Grammy Legend Award, they also became the first recipients of that award in the 21st century. Barry and Robin accepted as well as Maurice's son, Adam, in a tearful ceremony.
Although there was talk of a memorial concert featuring both surviving brothers and invited guests, nothing materialised. Barry and Robin continued to work independently, and both released recordings with other artists, occasionally coming together to perform at special events.
In late 2004, Robin embarked on a solo tour of Germany, Russia and Asia. During January 2005, Barry, Robin and several legendary rock artists recorded "Grief Never Grows Old", the official tsunami relief record for the Disasters Emergency Committee. Later that year, Barry reunited with Barbra Streisand for her top-selling album Guilty Pleasures, released as Guilty Too in the UK as a sequel album to the previous Guilty. Robin continued touring in Europe. Also in 2004, Barry recorded his song "I Cannot Give You My Love" with Cliff Richard, which became a UK top 20 hit single.
In February 2006, Barry and Robin reunited on stage for a Miami charity concert to benefit the Diabetes Research Institute. It was their first public performance together since Maurice's death. The pair also played at the 30th annual Prince's Trust Concert in the UK on 20 May 2006. In October 2008, Robin performed a couple of songs in London as part of the BBC Electric Proms Saturday Night Fever performance. This involved various other performers and the BBC Concert Orchestra, and was screened on the BBC and BBC interactive services.
2009–2012: Return to performing and Robin's death
In an interview with Easy Mix radio host Tim Roxborough on 1 September 2009, Barry's 63rd birthday, Barry commented on future tours saying that "they will be back"; but in an agreement with Warner/Rhino they would not make an announcement at that time. On 7 September 2009, Robin disclosed to Jonathan Agnew that he had been in touch with Barry and that they had agreed that the Bee Gees would re-form and "perform again".
Barry and Robin performed on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing on 31 October 2009 and appeared on ABC-TV's Dancing with the Stars on 17 November 2009. On 15 March 2010, Barry and Robin inducted the Swedish group ABBA into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On 26 May 2010, the two made a surprise appearance on the ninth-season finale of American Idol.
On 20 November 2011 it was announced that Robin Gibb, at 61 years old, had been diagnosed with liver cancer, a condition he had become aware of several months earlier. He had become noticeably thinner in previous months and had to cancel several appearances due to issues with severe abdominal pain.
On 13 February 2012, Robin joined British military trio the Soldiers for the Coming Home charity concert at the London Palladium, in support of injured servicemen. It was his first public appearance for almost five months and, as it turned out, his final one.
On 14 April 2012, it was reported that Robin had contracted pneumonia in a Chelsea hospital and was in a coma. Although he came out of his coma on 20 April 2012, his condition deteriorated rapidly, and he died on 20 May 2012 of liver and kidney failure. With Robin's death, Barry became the last surviving Gibb brother, and the Bee Gees dissolved as a musical group.
2013–present: Looking back at a lifetime of music
In September and October 2013, Barry performed his first solo tour "in honour of his brothers and a lifetime of music". In addition to the Rhino collection, The Studio Albums: 1967–1968, Warner Bros. released a box set in 2014 called The Warner Bros Years: 1987–1991 that included the studio albums E.S.P., One and High Civilization as well as extended mixes and B-sides. It also included the band's entire 1989 concert in Melbourne, Australia, available only on video as All for One prior to this release. The documentary The Joy of the Bee Gees is aired on BBC Four on 19 December 2014.
In 2015, 13STAR Records released a box set 1974–1979 by 23 March, which included the studio albums Mr. Natural, Main Course, Children of the World and Spirits Having Flown. A fifth disc called The Miami Years includes all the tracks from Saturday Night Fever as well as B-sides. No unreleased tracks from the era were included.
After a hiatus from performing, Barry Gibb returned to solo and guest singing performances. He occasionally appears with his son, Steve Gibb, who declined to use the Bee Gees brand mainly because of his much different style. In 2016, he released In the Now, his first solo effort since 1984's Now Voyager. It was the first release of new Bee Gees-related music since the posthumous release of Robin Gibb's 50 St. Catherine's Drive. The Bee Gees have signed a new distribution deal with Capitol Records, bringing them back to Universal.