Of course the Bee Gees seemed a difficult proposition in the punk days.
With their bouffant hair, well trimmed beards, tight white flares and falsetto driven disco pop songs, they were, to us miserable rain swept punk droogs, about as far away from the filth and fury as it was possible to get but there was always this nagging feeling that they were pretty damn good.
As the years rolled by this respect has grown. A quick delve into their sixties catalogue showed that they were the greatest of songwriters and history has now got them down second only to the Beatles in terms of record sales.
Their disco era redefined the form with the perfect harmonies and the melodramatic songs that transcended the genre and have become pop classic. Songs that saw them take 4 out of the top 5 best selling singles in the USA, a feat only accomplished before by the Beatles.
And in the middle of it all was a think, goofy looking man- the lead singer Robin Gibb, whose death from the complications of cancer at 62 is a sad day for pop music.
The Isle Of Man is an unlikely place for one of the biggest pop bands of all time to come from but it was in Douglas that the Gibb brothers were born and Robin still retained his Manx accent and kept links with the island, always regarding it as his home.
The twin brother of the late Maurice Gibb Robin was the third-born of five children, Gibb had one older sister, Lesley (born 1945), and three brothers: Barry (born 1946), twin Maurice (1949”â2003), and Andy (1958”â1988).
When Robin was 7 the family moved back to their mother’s hometown of Manchester to Keppel Road in Chorlton where they started singing together. Tearaway youth, they attempted to burn down the local cinema, which saw their parents move them to Australia to keep them out of trouble. Instead of getting into more trouble they started singing in their own band and became a local hit on the Queensland circuit.
The video clips of the youthful Bee Gees are great with the older Barry towering over his two geeky twin brothers. Already their harmonies are honed to perfection and the band started having minor hits in Australia and were managed by Bill Gates. Gates renamed them the “Bee Gees” after his and partner Goode’s initials ”â thus the name was not specifically a reference to “Brothers Gibb”, despite popular belief.
They were now a successful touring band in Australia, with the older Barry being the key member, writing the songs and they released a handful of singles. Their first minor hit ”ËWine And Woman’ in 1965 led to the brother’s first album, The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs. before returning to England in 1966.
Manager Gibb had sent demos to Brain Epstein, who passed them on to NEMS junior partner, Robert Stigwood, who became the band’s mentor and producer and saw them break through to huge success in the late sixties with classic singles like Massachusetts and New York Mining Disaster 1941, songs that showed a maturity in song-wring and performance that belied their years with 17 year old Robin singing the lead vocal on their debut number one single.
Their lush, classic 60s symphonies marked a new sophistication in pop and came with that slightly twisted feel of the time. There are plenty of trippy flavours in their songs that come as a surprise to anyone expecting some sort of lush neo cabaret.
They slotted into a generation that was still in love with the Beatles but found them increasingly way out. The Bee Gees were like the fabs without the drug craziness but with enough of that trippy twist to fit into the new chemical times. Like a lot of late sixties pop the true psychedlia is to be found in the most unlikley places like on the Bee Gees early song Red Chair, Fade Away.
There was also the fab Beatle Rubber Soul pop of In My Own Time.
They were like 3 McCartneys and no Lennons- this is not a criticism- the melodic mastery of Macca was tripled in the brothers Gibb and their sixties period was highly fruitful and those songs stand the test of time.
The first phase of their career was now established as the youthful writers and singers of lush, slightly trippy sixties pop that saw them on the Beatles undercard. Tensions in the group though eventually saw the frustrated lead vocalist Robin leave with his shimmering distinctive vocals in 1969 because his older brother Barry tended to dominate.
Robin quit in 1969 after the groups Odessa album masterpiece which was a double album that explored several directions. His solo career was initially highly successful whilst the rest of the band continued with older sister Lesley joining .
In 1970 Robin rejoined and the next five years saw varying degrees of success until, on the recommendation of Eric Clapton, they moved to Miami and in 1975 and started making disco singles. This switch in sound saw their second and most important phase and they became the most successful group in the world, defying fashion and follicle gravity in a series of sensational singles that are arguably the greatest in their genre. Marrying their brilliant harmonies and knack for writing genius melodies to the new disco boom they became the last of the international playboys, the Isle Of Man brothers who were more American than anyone from the big country.
They were brought into Saturday Night Fever after the film was finished and knocked off all those classic songs in two days without even seeing the film. An accident of fate and time that saw them redefine pop music. Younger brother Andy Gibb was already a successful teenybop solo star on his own terms (he would later die in 1988).
The end of the disco boom saw the brothers star wane. The overkill of the period resulted in Bee Gee free weekends on the radio and too much success had almost ruined the band.
They would spend the rest of their career writing songs for other artists and having varying degrees of success on their own until a late nineties comeback saw them restored to the top of the pile, a comeback that was ended with Maurice’s death from a heart attack at 53.
For decades they had been frozen in time, they were constantly parodied and their disco records were sneered at and their brilliant sixties records were overlooked but their star was on the rise with a whole raft of musicians from Noel Gallagher onwards re evaluating their contribution and that sixties catalogue becoming a huge influence on Britpop. By the tim of Robin’s death he was looked on as an elder statesman of pop, with the wisdom and the talent to back up what he said and the band’s place in pop history finally cemented- a victory of sorts for one of the most underrated bands in the UK pop history.