It seems to take an event of great emotional tragedy for people to fully appreciate talent and this appears to be particularly true of the Gibb brothers.
One might think that the lessons would have been learned after the death of Andy Gibb back in 1988 but, certainly after Maurice’s death in 2003, the general public still seemed to regard them with a certain amount of contempt.
Only following the death of Robin Gibb have all the closet Bee Gees fans finally surfaced. I daresay that at least some of them are genuine fans previously too embarrassed to admit their liking for the band. I also expect that many more are purely “jumping on the bandwagon”, in the wake of renewed interest in the Gibbs’ music following Robin’s passing.
It seems strange that, despite all their success, the Gibb brothers have never been recognised as great songwriters by the public in general. Sure, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame back in 1994, but that wasn’t widely reported in the press so much of the public could be forgiven for missing it. Even one article I read in the days following Robin’s death the writer referred to Barry thus:
His lyrics were never profound and what he says seems pretty basic. It’s hard to believe you’re looking at the source of a creative river that flowed for four decades and shifted 200 million albums.
And this was from a fairly “positive” article. I can’t imagine that the writer was that familiar with Barry’s complete back-catalogue otherwise he would never have referred to the lyrics as not being profound. Obviously they’re not all going to be beautiful masterpieces of verse – they’re pop songs for God’s sake, what does he expect?!!
With countless great songs in the Gibbs’ catalogue, many of which can be regarded as modern-day classics, so many more seem to be heartbreakingly overlooked.
So why should this be? How come this unassuming band of brothers get such a bad press?
It can’t all be a result of the so-called “disco backlash”, surely?! Why do a lot of people still regard them as “shallow”, “naff troubadours”, “the medallion men of pop”?
Their sixties albums are full of great, lost gems; those psychedelically-tinged pop masterpieces, complete with the trademark Gibb harmonies and fine melodies that equal those of their heroes the Beatles.
All of the Bee Gees’ albums from the sixties contain songs that are full of ingenious twists and turns, as well as original ideas in both lyrics and melody. There are even songs from the early seventies, a period when they were trying to find their feet again following a short break-up, that contained sparks of that originality.
Many commentators will tell you that the brothers turned things around by adding a “disco” beat. I’m not sure how much of that was “on purpose” as opposed to what they felt was right at the time. Certainly the Saturday Night Fever tracks – those songs that everyone berates them for – are not “technically” disco; they’re more akin to an R&B beat than disco, but that seems to be overlooked.
If anything all the Gibbs are actually guilty of is finding a winning formula for writing hit songs.
A formula that others have tried to emulate without success – maybe there’s a hint of jealousy in some of the backlash against the brothers?
As for their falsettos … again the Gibbs seemed to be unnecessarily picked on for using this singing style, yet when Brian Wilson used it on the Beach Boys songs he was hailed as a genius.
As recently as this year the singer Tyler James was praised for his strong falsetto vocal on the UK version of The Voice. Coach Tom Jones announced “It’s one the strongest I’ve heard”, but he missed an opportunity to give a shout-out reference to the Gibbs (despite all his other name-dropping over the course of the series).
The figures can’t be glossed-over, though.
Barry Gibb shares the record of six consecutive Billboard Number Ones with Lennon & McCartney, the Guinness Book of World Records lists Barry as the second most successful songwriter in history fter Paul McCartney.
Islands In The Stream is still the biggest-selling Country Music song of all time, despite it originally being written as an R&B song! Surely this fact alone should tell most people that, maybe, these guys actually do know what they’re doing.
Even the doubters can be left in no doubt at their vast talent when you find out that they had a number one in each decade from the 1960s to the 2000s – that’s five decades of hit music. How many other songwriters can say that?
During his tribute to Robin, award-winning lyricist Sir Tim Rice paid tribute to their legacy:
You can easily speak about them in the same breath as Lennon and McCartney and Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
He had this extraordinary soulful voice, which was very unusual – especially from a boy still in his teens – on records like ‘Massachusetts’ and I’’ Started A Joke.’’
But they also had two other singers in Barry and Maurice, with Barry taking over a lot of the lead vocals in the disco era. Whatever style they presented their music in, it was always original.
They were fantastic performers and singers but of course why they will last forever is the songs. They had jolly good melodies and very original lyrics and they were songs an awful lot of people could identify with.
In a way, unusually for most pop singers, they actually got better as they went on.
‘Islands In The Stream ‘and ‘Woman In Love’, and all these other songs were quite late in their career.
‘Jive Talkin’ was the record that got them back in a big way when they’d been out of favour – that one is quite overlooked. It was a huge hit, but the thing about it was that it really ushered in a new rhythm and it was a key record for the whole disco movement.
They just got those rhythms going really early on and coupled them with fantastic melodies.
Gary Osborne, songwriter and chairman of the Ivor Novello songwriting awards, suggests that if it had not been for the Beatles, the Bee Gees would have been recognised as the best writers of all time.
The Beatles were in a different league, then there was the Gibbs, then there was everyone else.
They won 29 Ivor Novello Awards between them in pretty much every category we’ve got, culminating in the Academy Fellowship in 2005. And in songwriting terms that pretty much says it all.
They just wrote brilliant tunes. It’s not a mystery but it’s magic.
With such glowing reference from their peers in the industry one really has to question why some people still insist on berating the brothers, instead of celebrating them as the masters of their craft that they are.