Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Ten Great Songs From One Great Band
The Bee Gees (featuring the songs of Robin Gibb)
In memory of the late Robin Gibb, I decided to create a special tribute to one of my favorite artists. Born to Barbara (née Pass; born 1920) and Hugh Gibb (1916–1992) in the Isle of Man, Robin Gibb was the fraternal twin brother of Maurice Gibb, and the elder of the two, born 35 minutes before Maurice. The third-born of five children, Gibb had one older sister, Lesley (born 1945), and three brothers: Barry (born 1946), twin Maurice (1949–2003), and Andy (1958–1988). Gibb's mother Barbara was born in Worsley, Salford, and in the 1950s, the family returned to Manchester, England. The family lived on Keppel Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy and it was here that the young Gibb brothers sang together and performed in local theaters. In late 1958, the family moved to Brisbane, Australia, settling in one of the city's poorest suburbs, Cribb Island. The brothers' music careers began in Australia and flourished when they returned to England in 1967.
Traditionally, Robin's role in the Bee Gees was lead singer, for which he vied with Barry during the group's first period of British success in the late 1960s. This rivalry eventually prompted Robin to leave the group and begin a solo career. The final irritant was when Robin's song "Lamplight" was relegated to the B-side of Barry's song "First of May". Meanwhile, there were rumors during this period that Robin was dealing with drug abuse problems, leading Robin's parents to allegedly threaten legal action to make him a ward of court.
In his solo career, Gibb was initially successful with a number 2 UK hit, "Saved by the Bell" (which sold over one million copies, and received a gold disc). However, Gibb's first solo album, Robin's Reign, was less successful and he soon found that being a solo artist was unsatisfying. Maurice played bass guitar on the song "Mother and Jack", but was subsequently removed from the project by producer Robert Stigwood. Despite having almost completed a second solo album, Sing Slowly Sisters, Gibb reunited with his brothers, who then revived the Bee Gees. The group came back on a high note, reaching No. 3 on the US charts with the song "Lonely Days" in 1970. In 1971, the trio had their first US #1 hit, "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart", but after that their popularity started to ebb.
In 1974, with new producer Arif Mardin, the Bee Gees reinvented themselves with the song "Blue-Eyed Soul,". The group now entered their second period of phenomenal success in the disco-era late 1970s. While continuing in the Bee Gees, Gibb also promoted his new solo career. During the 1980s, Gibb released three solo albums (How Old Are You?, Secret Agent, and Walls Have Eyes). These three albums were more successful in Europe than in the UK or US, with How Old Are You? spawning the hit single "Juliet". However, Gibb's 1984 single "Boys Do Fall in Love" did reach the Billboard Magazine top 40 list of hits. Gibb also recorded several extended versions of dance songs, including "Boys Do Fall in Love", "Secret Agent", "Like a Fool" and the rarest, "You Don't Say Us Anymore"; many of these extended versions were released to radio disc jockeys only.
In January, 2003, fifteen days after Maurice died, Robin released a new solo album, Magnet, which featured the Bee Gees song "Wish You Were Here" (from the 1989 album One) in a new acoustic version. The lead single, "Please", had coincidental lyrics about "loss". After Maurice's death, Robin and Barry again disbanded the group; however, in late 2009, the two brothers announced that they would reform and perform again as the Bee Gees.
On August 14th, 2010, while performing in Belgium, Gibb began to feel abdominal pains. Four days later, he was rushed to a hospital in Oxford, England and underwent emergency surgery for a blocked intestine, the same condition that killed Maurice. Robin recovered and returned to perform concerts in New Zealand and Australia. During this time, he was also involved in the memorial dedicated to RAF Bomber Command in Green Park, London. Robin also wrote "The Titanic Requiem" with his son R.J., which was recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Robin continued to make television appearances and other events following his surgery, but in April 2011 he was forced by health problems to cancel his tour of Brazil. Another concert in Paris was cancelled in October. On October 14th, he was due to perform the charity single with The Soldiers, but was again rushed to hospital with severe abdominal pains. four days later, following his release from the hospital, he appeared on ITV's The Alan Titchmarsh Show looking gaunt and frail.
On October 27th, Robin cancelled an appearance only minutes before he was due to perform at the Poppy Appeal Concert in London. Later the same week however, he was seen in London and quoted as saying he felt "absolutely great".
in November, it was revealed that Robin had been battling liver cancer diagnosed several months earlier. A source close to the singer stated that his condition was "not good" and his wife, Dwina, had not left his bedside. His brother Barry and his wife Linda, as well as their mother Barbara and Robin's children, Melissa and Spencer, flew to the UK to be with him.
Sadly, Robin Gibb died on Sunday, May 20th, following a long battle with colorectal cancer and intestinal surgery. Gibb's relatives sang to him as he succumbed to his fate, his wife Dwina witnessing his tears as she played him the Roy Orbison song "Crying". One month prior to his death, he caught pneumonia and entered a coma, though he regained consciousness after a week. On the night of his death a statement was released to the world, saying "The family of Robin Gibb, of the Bee Gees, announce with great sadness that Robin passed away today following his long battle with cancer and intestinal surgery. The family have asked that their privacy is respected at this very difficult time."
Upon the announcement, music historian Paul Gambaccini described Gibb as "one of the major figures in the history of British music" and "one of the best white soul voices ever", while he noted that the Bee Gees were "second only to Lennon and McCartney as the most successful songwriting unit in British popular music".
Robin's death left his brother, Barry, as the final surviving member of the original Bee Gees trio.
New York Mining Disaster 1941 (April 1967)
The Beatles-inspired "New York Mining Disaster 1941" was the first single The Bee Gees recorded in England and it became their first international success. This song is about a miner trapped beneath the surface who wants to contact his wife. The Gibb brothers wrote the song when they were sitting in the dark on some studio stairs at Polydor Records imagining they were stuck in a mine accident. They placed it in New York; far from Wales where a recent accident had taken place so as not to offend those who were hurt by it. The second verse has one line less than the first verse, which is an example of the boys' intricate songcraft in their early years. Although there was no mining disaster in New York in 1941, there was one in McIntire, Pennsylvania which killed 6 people. The song though appears to have been vaguely inspired by the Aberfan tragedy in South Wales. On October 21, 1966, 144 people were killed, 116 of them children, when a waste tip slid down a mountainside; unsurprisingly the story generated massive media coverage, and even 40 years later, the name Aberfan is synonymous with the tragedy. In the biography The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, Maurice Gibb is quoted as saying the song is "A total rip-off of the Beatles" although later he is said to have retracted this.
Holiday (September 1967)
The song is haunting, even eerie, having been composed primarily in the minor key with a strong organ presence. Both Barry and Robin Gibb wrote the song share lead vocals. It was not released as a single in their native United Kingdom as Polydor UK released the single "World" from their next album Horizontal, but was released in the U.S. in September 1967. It appeared on the album Bee Gees' 1st and also on the Bee Gees first platinum (a million copies sold) album Best of the Bee Gees that was released in 1969. "Holiday" was prominently featured in the Korean films Nowhere to Hide and Holiday. The song remained a concert favorite for over 30 years, and Maurice Gibb often provided the fans comedic antics by attempting many failed attempts to join Barry and Robin, while singing this song.
Massachusetts (September 1967)
The Bee Gees wrote and had their first UK #1 with this song, but it wasn't until some years later, during a chance meeting in London between The Seekers ("Georgie Girl") lead singer Judith Durham and Maurice Gibb, that Judith learned the amazing truth that "Massachusetts" was originally intended to fulfill The Bee Gees' dream of becoming an early hit for The Seekers!, a successful band that also moved to England from Australia. The Bee Gees had never actually been to Massachusetts when they recorded this; they just liked the sound of the name. Robin Gibb explained in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh: "We have never been there but we loved the word and there is always something magic about American place names. It only works with British names if you do it as a folk song."
I Started a Joke (December 1968)
This song is about someone who has done or said something horribly wrong, which resulted in alienating everyone around him and is a great example of lyrical songwriting. Robin Gibb told The Mail on Sunday November 1, 2009: "This is a very spiritual song. The listeners have to interpret it themselves – trying to explain it would detract from the song." The song wasn't released in the UK as a single, but it peaked at #6 in America and was a #1 in many other countries. These days just about anything that's a hit in the US will get a release in the UK, especially if the artist is of British origin, but it wasn't the case in late 60s.
Run To Me (July 1972)
Robin Gibb recalled to The Mail on Sunday November 1, 2009: "We wrote this is at our manager Robert Stigwood's house in Beverly Hills. He was a great visionary and championed our beliefs and chemistry as brothers. Lyrically, this song chronicles the wishes of a man who longs to be noticed by a broken-hearted girl." This song was another huge international hit. It peaked in the UK at #9 and #16 in the US.
Country Lanes (January 1976)
This song was the "B" side to the single "Fanny (Be Tender With My Love) and taken from the multi-platinum LP Main Course. By this time, lead vocal duties within the band was transferred to Barry, with Robin backing him up. However, Robin did sing lead on a song or two in subsequent albums. But the success of Main Course propelled the trio from a modestly popular British act into an international sensation. While all three brothers made up the band, Barry became the true face of the Bee Gees. Still, each original song was written by either all three boys, or just Barry and Robin. "Country Lanes" showed off Robin's amazing voice and songwriting ability and is considered his most romantic classic.
Living Together (January 1979)
By 1979, the Bee Gees were at their height of popularity. Following three straight #1 songs from the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, they followed up with three straight #1 songs from their next LP Spirits Having Flown. Like their past few albums, lead singing fell to Barry. However, Robin did sing lead on one - this one. "Living Together" was not released as a single and it featured their now signature falsettos. But with the of the decade came the end of the disco era and the fall from the top was both sudden and stunning. One year Bee Gee records are flying off the shelves, and the next year you couldn't give them away. With this fall from grace, the boys faced a crossroad and an uncertain future.
E.S.P. (December 1987)
This song was the title track to the band's first album is 6 years. It marked the first time in twelve years the band had worked with producer Arif Mardin, and was their first LP to be recorded digitally. The album sold well throughout Europe, reaching #5 in the UK, #2 in Norway and Austria, and #1 in Germany and Switzerland, though it barely made the top 100 in the US. The first track released from E.S.P. was "You Win Again, which was an international #1 and a huge comeback for the Gibb brothers. The second single did much less well than "You Win Again" reaching only #13 in Germany and outside top forty elsewhere, Warner Bros. pushed "E.S.P." even more heavily with many alternate mixes on 12-inch singles and promo disks. The reprise, a piece of the a cappella opening, was used as the closing number of the album.
This Is Where I Came In (April 2001)
This was the first and only single from their final album and was featured as the last song performed on the live Bee Gees 1997 PBS special One Night Only. The song is a bluesy pop ballad written by all three bothers, with the Robin in the lead. It reached #18 in the UK and #25 in Germany, but was not released in the U.S. Unlike their disco era songs, this album, the bands' 22nd studio release, featured both Robin and Barry singing lead and was the last album the boys made. Sadly, just two years later, Maurice Gibb died from complications resulting from a twisted intestine. His twin bother, Robin, would succumb from the same condition which ultimately lead to his death, as well.
Juliet (Solo release 1983)
Following the awful sales of their first post-disco LP, Living Eyes, the trio took a break from recoding together. Barry went on to produce hugely successful albums for Dionne Warwick (Heartbreaker), Barbara Streisand (Guilty) and Kenny Rogers (Eyes That See in the Dark), as well as his own solo album, Now Voyager in 1984. Robin released his own solo album, How Old Are You? in 1983, which featured this song as it's only single. The song was a huge hit in various countries in Europe, hitting the #1 spot in Germany, Italy and Switzerland, and peaking at #2 in Austria. Twin brother and fellow Bee Gee Maurice played guitar, keyboards and bass on the album as well as co-writing every track with Robin. The album was not a great success in America and failed to chart in Britain.
Oh! Darling (August 1978)
In 1978, at the height of their popularity, producer Robert Stigwood thought it wise to not only copy the Beatles, who made a career of doing full-length movies to boost album sales, but to do so with one of the Beatles' best known works of art. The movie had no real dialogue and instead everything said was in song. It was a bomb in the theaters and although it did not hurt the Bee Gees, it certainly was a strange decision of Peter Frampton's to appear. He was riding high following his hugely successful Frampton Comes Alive! LP. This film cost him a lot of rock and roll fans who felt he sold out. As for the Bee Gees, it seemed nothing would stop them as 1978 was their most successful to date. Perhaps the only positive legacy taken from the movie was the beautiful harmonies the 4 of them shared singing these classic songs. Of course, that does not include the painful version of "Fixing A Hole" by George Burns. I think my ears are still bleeding from hearing that.