In 1958, three UK-born brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, began playing music for spending music in Queensland, Australia—where they had relocated with their family. A contract to perform at a local speedway led to an illustrious career for a trio that defined disco-era music through the late 1970s. Their chart-topping singles, “How Deep Is Your Love”, “Stayin’ Alive”, and “Night Fever” from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack escalated them within the disco-crazed music scene.
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During the ‘80s, the artists lent their individual songwriting talent to other acts of the time including Barbra Streisand (“Woman in Love”), Dionne Warwick (“Heartbreaker”), and Diana Ross (“Chain Reaction”). Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers brought a Bee Gees-penned track, “Islands in the Stream,” to infamy. That song and “Heartbreaker” were two that Robin wished Bee Gees had recorded on their own, but Barry clarified to Apple Music’s Zane Lowe in an interview for Essentials Radio, “That was the period where we just couldn’t get airplay. So, why waste great songs? My feeling was let’s write for other people. Let’s show everybody that we’re songwriters before we’re anything else. And that’s what we did.”
During this decade, each brother stepped further into their own artistry. In August 1983, Barry signed a solo deal with MCA Records and spent much of late 1983 and 1984 writing songs for this first solo effort, Now Voyager. Robin released three solo albums and Maurice released his second single after his first in 1970.
Following their younger brother, Andy’s premature death from the implications of a viral infection in 1988, Barry, Robin, and Maurice reunited to released One, with a special dedication to Andy, “Wish You Were Here.” They then teamed up with Eric Clapton for a philanthropic project as the Bunbury’s before their triple-platinum album, The Very Best of the Bee Gees in 1990. Shortly after, Maurice sought treatment for alcoholism—which he had battled for several years.
The brothers released four more albums through 2001—High Civilization, Size Isn’t Everything, Still Waters, and This Is Where I Came In. In 2003, Maurice died unexpectedly from a heart attack at age 53, marking 2001’s This Is Where I Came In as the last official Bee Gees record. Robin passed in 2012, leaving Barry as the sole proprietor of BeeGees legacy.
“I always imagined us sitting around in our eighties and laughing, about everything that had ever happened to us, but what did I know?” He told Lowe during the interview. “Can you imagine when the pressure’s off and we were just old men? And it just wasn’t going to happen that way, and that’s life itself. When does the light go off? You just don’t know. And so I come to terms with that.”
Barry now understands how naïve he and his brothers were of the industry they were rising so quickly through the ranks. “We only understood if we wrote a good a song, it might be successful,” says Barry.
The three brothers found strength in numbers with their songwriting, building out each of their ideas into a lyrical concept to be delivered with tight, three-part harmonies. The familial trust between them was a weapon, as the unique dynamic is native only to musicians that share DNA. Barry explains their shared cue while writing, saying, “If it was a great song, we were all smiling. And we could walk out of the writing room, knowing that we had something wonderful. And that’s how we worked; we never did anything unless it was unanimous.”
Their first number one hit single, “Massachusetts,” is one of those idyllic places in America that the trio actually visited. Robin had just sailed around the harbor on a tourist trip and came back to meet them at St. Regis with an idea. Barry explains, “We just picked up our guitars and started playing because we didn’t have anything else to do at that time. And the song just grew and grew.”
The previously naïve bunch grew to understand that songwriting was not all it took to remain in their stardom. 1976’s hit song, “You Should Be Dancing,” helped shape their idea of being performance artists during the disco era.
“There were four different sections for ‘You Should Be Dancing’, and none of them really worked until we buckled down and started figuring out what the right groove was, what the right tempo was,” Barry explains. “In other words, you can write a good song, but if the showcasing is wrong, it doesn’t work and vice versa.”
Now, Barry draws inspiration from life experience. But, in their heyday, Bee Gees were too young and sought creative spark from their industry peers. The brothers were recording 1979’s “Tragedy” at Record Planet, in a studio next door to Stevie Wonder. Barry recalls, “he was doing “Superstition” and I’m telling you, it was like, ‘Holy shit’. We could hear it through the wall… So we were hearing all this stuff, and I think that fired us up for ‘Tragedy’.”
Several of Bee Gees’ hits continue to define them in modern music, with contemporary artists covering them and breathing new life into the classics. But 1977’s “Stayin’ Alive” resonates poignantly under the current context of a post-2020 world. Barry explains, “When I hear it now, I hear how prophetic those words were. You know, ‘New York Times’ effect on man, whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother you’re staying alive.”
He continues, “But a lot of people who had heart attacks and things like that were saved by that groove because medicine and doctors were starting to use ‘Stayin’ Alive’ as some form of CPR. And when we were doing shows, or when I was doing shows about two years back, I was meeting fans all the time that would tell me that their father had survived a heart attack because they did CPR to ‘Stayin’ Alive.’ And so that’s gratifying. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Listen to Zane Lowe’s full interview with Barry Gibb on Apple Music Radio below.