by Emma Bell
The Bee Gees have long since been unfashionable, with their brand of closely harmonised falsetto pop falling out of favour in recent years, but the death of Robin Gibb is a chance to remind ourselves of their once formidable presence in the charts. Second only to Lennon and McCartney in terms of the most successful songwriting unit in pop history, the Bee Gees sold over 200 million records and were responsible for some of the most phenomenal successes the charts have ever seen.
Born in the Isle of Man, but with his family emigrating to Australia, Robin, his twin Maurice and elder brother Barry grew up in Brisbane. A younger brother Andy, was born and the family soon immersed themselves in music and formed fledgling bands. Despite a number one hit in Australia, they realised that they needed to move back to the UK to ensure international success, which they did in 1966. They developed their style of soulful pop ballads and scored major success with New York Mining Disaster 1941, Massachusetts, Words, Message to You and To Love Somebody, which was written by Robin and became a standard, covered by hundreds of artists since. Nina Simone's version:
However, the Bee Gees saw this brand of balladeering falling out of favour and the band briefly broke up. They were persuaded to reform and wrote the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, which still remains the top selling movie soundtrack of all time and which changed the face of disco music. The hits were exceptional: Jive Talkin, How Deep is your Love (see below), Stayin Alive, Night Fever – it was simply the soundtrack to 1977, and I wore my flares with pride as I danced along to my prized copy in my mum’s front room. Pop culture is a vicious beast however, and with punk snapping at disco’s heels, the Bee Gees were pilloried for the rise of disco and there were scenes of records being brought to US football stadiums and burned on ‘We hate the Bee Gees’ Days.
It must have been painful for songwriters of such stature to see their work mocked so roundly. Ever resourceful, they went back into the studio – as writers and producers, creating mega hits for Dionne Warwick, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross and many more. Robin’s final work was a collaboration with his son, RJ, on The Titanic Requiem, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the naval disaster. He was a remarkably talented singer and songwriter whose best work came from his collaboration with his brothers. Together they sold more records than the Rolling Stones, Abba or Elton John, but Gibb always felt the band had not received the recognition it deserved.
Personal tragedy struck when youngest brother Andy died of a drug overdose in 1988 and Robin's twin brother Maurice died unexpectedly in 2003. "There are songs we wrote in 1968 that people are still singing," Robin told one interviewer in 2008. "There are very few artists with that kind of history."
Read a tribute to Donna Summer: