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The Bee Gees
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The Bee Gees

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.

Early history

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 were failures on the album charts, a pattern repeated with "Run To Me" (1972) of the disastrously-unprofitable To Whom It May Concern, although the single returned them to the top ten in Britain. After a 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. The band finally found the new sound they had been developing with their following album, Main Course, which included the massive hit "Jive Talkin'". 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 three Bee Gees hits ("Stayin' Alive", "How Deep Is Your Love?" 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 15 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 movie musical Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, based on The Beatles' 1967 album.

A fourth Gibb, Andy Gibb, also managed to enjoy massive success releasing dance albums. The Bee Gees, however, were about to lose most of their fans. Disco was rapidly declining in popularity and viability, and a large anti-Bee Gees faction of music listeners had erupted, drawn to heavy metal and punk music as the 1970s ended with the moderately successful Spirits Having Flown, their follow-up to the "Sgt. Pepper" soundtrack, which 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' next album, Living Eyes (1981), failed due to the lack of radio support. 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. Robins attempt at a solo album began with "How Old Are You". Although it was a hit overseas it 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.

The Bee Gees released E.S.P in 1987 as a comeback album; it was well received, and quite popular everywhere except in the United States. Their following album, One (1989), was popular in the US, and the title track was a hit. A few albums and multiple compilations followed in the 1990s that met with modest success.

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", Chain Reaction, Morning Of My Life, To Love Somebody, Emotion and Islands in the Stream.

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.

In November 1997, the Bee Gees performed a live concert in Las Vegas, 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). Then, 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".

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.

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. Shortly afterwards, his remaining brothers announced that, although they intended to go on writing and performing, they would no longer use the title, "The Bee Gees".

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, viz:

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)".

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