In mid April, Robin Gibb lay in a coma battling pneumonia. For a brief time, the talented singer/songwriter would fight the pneumonia which has been brought on by colorectal cancer, and show moments of lucidity. But, sadly, Gibb, who was 62, was pronounced dead on May 20th.

Robin Gibb, with his brothers Maurice and Barry, formed the pop group, the Bee Gees. Born in the Isle of Man, to Barbara, a singer, and Hugh Gibb, a bandleader, the entire Gibb family (which also included a sister, and a younger brother Andy, who was also a singer although not a Bee Gee and who died at 30 in 1988 from heart failure) settled in Brisbane, Australia in 1958 before returning to the UK in the mid 1960s. Bill Goode, a racetrack promoter, was the man whose initials inspired their moniker - he had seen them perform in Australia.

The Bee Gees attracted their first audiences in the late 1960s to the early 1970s with their gentle interpretations, emotional falsetto, spiraling harmonies and genuinely romantic lyrics. Their 1965 debut LP, ‘The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs’, didn’t chart enough to satisfy its label, Festival, but Nat Kipner, the A & R manager of Spin Records, believed in their abilities and eagerly became their manager.

During the mid 1960s, they spent time in the recording studio, crafting new songs and trying out Beatles covers. Their 1966 single ‘Spicks and Specks’ was voted Best Single of the Year by an Australian publication, but they still hadn’t achieved their big break.

That wouldn’t happen until a demo reached Brian Epstein (NEMS) and his colleague, Robert Stigwood. The Bee Gees were offered a five-year contract with Polydor/Atco.

‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’ and ‘To Love Somebody’ climbed to the US Top 21, in 1967. Though the latter was written for Otis Redding, the irresistible lads, often compared to the Beatles because of their counter-culture hair, original tunes and boyish camaraderie, did a phenomenal job of communicating the song’s earnest message. That sincerity would not be lost on their contemporaries. It would be covered by a diverse set of singers: Janis Joplin, Rod Stewart, the Animals, Nina Simone and Michael Bolton.

They would record for their 1968 album ‘Horizontal’ such classics as ‘Massachusetts’ and ‘World’ and also, in that year, ‘Words’, a ballad that exemplified all that was golden about the group. From the first innocent line, “Smile an everlasting smile” to “words, and that is all I have to take your heart away…” a magical combination of evocative vocals and brazen vulnerability made it the quintessential love song, the kind that, unequivocally, makes one’s throat tighten and eyes well up.

The Bee Gees had also created a reliable nitch. The protest and hard rock sensibility of that decade was in full force on the airwaves, but the Bee Gees were focused in their own way. They not only sang about love, they sang about it with great detail. The lyrics weren’t meant to be paradigms or metaphors; the stories were direct, the phrases were melodic, and, of course, their harmonies stood up to the past of, say, America’s Everly Brothers, as well as to their British counterparts.

Also in 1968, the prolific brothers recorded ‘Idea’, their fifth album, which included the urgent ‘I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You’ – “one more hour and my life will be through…” and the humbling, ‘I Started a Joke’, two more ballads, in which the romantic stakes were set startlingly high.

In the fall of 1970, they would record ‘Lonely Days’ for ‘2 Years On’, and enjoy the following year their No. 1 hit, ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?’, from their album, ‘Trafalgar’. The Bee Gees had been truly on the crest of a tidal wave, but popular tastes changed and by the middle of the decade they were feeling the effects of a flailing career.

Ironically they became prominent figures in the disco scene, and this time in their history is considered by many music historians to be the band’s major turning point. When they holed up in a hotel in France, however, to contribute soundtracks to John Travolta’s cinematic, star vehicle, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, in the late 1970s, they were unfamiliar with the script’s nuances and, perhaps, afraid of whether they could retain their fan base. Could a pop/rock group trade in starry-eyed anthems for drum machines, strobe lights and disco balls? Would their intelligent lyrics be dumbed down by studio-generated, orchestra hits? In some ways, that stripped-down session was done on a wing and a prayer.

Yet the Bee Gees had already proven they could still brandish their signature harmonies (but this time, they would layer them over pulsating, percussive tracks), on songs like ‘You Should Be Dancing’ from 1976’s ‘Children of the World’, so writing songs over the next two years, like ‘How Deep is Your Love,’ ‘Stayin’ Alive,’ and ‘Night Fever’, all of which reached No. 1 in the US and, internationally, turned out to be not as much of a fruitless leap as they might have predicted.

In addition, they had established a reputation as being gifted, contemporary writers. Yvonne Elliman, for example, covered the hit, ‘If I Can’t Have You’ in 1977. Their songwriting efforts would be rewarded, as well, when Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton sang what would be an award winning duet of ‘Islands in the Stream,’ for Rogers’ 1983 album ‘Eyes That See in the Dark’. Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon covered that same song in 2009, with Robin and Tom Jones providing backing vocals.

For eight-months, the Bee Gees held the No. 1 spot on US charts for six songs. The follow-up to ‘Saturday Night Fever ‘was 1979’s ‘Spirits Having Flown’, which yielded three more major hits, ‘Too Much Heaven’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Love You Inside Out’ Generously, the group handed over royalties for ‘Too Much Heaven’ to UNICEF, which resulted in raising $11 million dollars.

The spirit of giving streamed unconditionally through the generous hearts of the Gibb family. Robin’s last concert before his untimely death was performed at the London Palladium. There he entertained returning, injured British servicemen and women. Robin’s great-grandfather had been a decorated soldier – perhaps the memory of this ancestor made the event, entitled ‘Coming Home’, feel even more personally satisfying.

By the 1980s, Robin, in the throes of his solo career, released three albums, ‘How Old Are You?’ (1983), ‘Secret Agent’ (1984) and ‘Walls Have Eyes’(1985). His independent sojourn was a mixed blessing. He did not have to bargain to sing lead vocals, but he didn’t have the constant emotional support, to which he had been so accustomed all of his life.

After Maurice died suddenly in 2003 from abdominal complications, the group took a hiatus and did not reform until 2009, but during that time, Robin and Barry recorded a charity single, ‘Grief Never Grows Old’ for the One World Project, to raise money for Asian tsunami victims.

In another project, this year, which fused entertainment and goodwill, Robin, and son, Robin-John, recorded a score for the Titanic Requiem, recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Keeping others in their thoughts seemed to be an integral part of the Bee Gees’ upbringing and code of ethics. Robin Gibb, who was equal parts philanthropist and creative, was a perfect example.

Related Links:

Commenting On: 1949-2012 - Robin Gibb

ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment

First Previous Next Last