The tragic, unexpected passing of Maurice Gibb in January 2003 prompted his brothers and fellow Bee Gees Barry and Robin to stop touring and recording, a decision which ended one of the most enduring legacies in popular music, the most successful brother act (and white soul act) of all time. From the 60’s through the 90’s, no artist could match the Brothers Gibb’s rollercoaster ride of waxing and waning popularity, nor reach as varied an audience. They are among pop’s most successful songwriters, but the core of the Bee Gees’ appeal lies in the incredible harmonies first discovered when the three gathered in a bedroom in their home in Manchester, England. Their father Hugh Gibb, a bandleader in his own right, and mother Barbara, a former professional singer, knew their sons possessed special talents, and fashioned them as a young, new Mills Brothers type act.
The Bee Gees began performing in 1955, and upon the family’s relocating to Australia in the late 50s, they worked talent shows and amateur outlets in Brisbane. The Bee Gees signed with Australia’s Festival Records in 1962, releasing a dozen singles and two albums over the next five years. None of these were as popular as the Australian TV show they hosted, but a return to England and signing with Robert Stigwood put them on course to achieve pop stardom by the late 60s; their hits included “Holiday,” “Massachusetts,” “Words,” “I’ve Got To Get a Message to You” and “I Started a Joke.” After the hits “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” the band hit a rough patch in the early 70s before producer Arif Mardin helped them gain their first platinum album with 1976’s Main Course.
The Bee Gees began recording with Miami rhythm sections and refashioned themselves as a dance band that also excelled at ballads—a combination which culminated with the Stigwood produced, 30 million selling soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever in 1977. The Bee Gees anchored the global disco phenomenon with their chart-topping hits “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever” and “How Deep Is Your Love.” They also produced hits for Yvonne Elliman, Samantha Sang and younger brother Andy Gibb (by now a teen heartthrob), and Barry wrote the title tune for the movie Grease, sung by Frankie Valli. The hits kept coming on their 1979 follow up album Spirits Having Flown, which spawned three #1 hits, “Too Much Heaven,” “Tragedy” and “Love You Inside Out.” Their only misstep was starring in the Stigwood produced film flop based on the music from the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.
With the wane in popularity and ultimate backlash against disco, their own recordings in the 80s failed to achieve iconic status, but The Bee Gees stayed on the charts via their songwriting endeavors with Barbra Streisand (Barry also sang on the duets “Guilty” and “What Kind of Fool”), Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (“Islands in the Stream”) and Dionne Warwick (“Heartbreaker”). Their 1987 effort ESP launched a series of recordings which proved huge successes globally, but only minor hits in the U.S. A later resurgence of the popularity of disco helped acquaint a new generation with their classic hits, and a musical stage version of Saturday Night Fever was a hit in 1998. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and continued recording and touring well into the new millennium.