The Bee Gees
4 out of 5 stars
If you want to pinpoint an album that transitioned the Bee Gees from their early folk/pop roots into the white leisure suit sporting dancing machine they became, it was 1974’s relatively obscure Mr. Natural. The combination of noted soul/jazz producer Arif Mardin with the Australian trio tested the R&B waters with that release, which, even though it wasn’t a big seller, paved the way to the far more successful, and funky, follow-ups Main Course (1975), Children of the World (1976), Spirits Having Flown (1979) and of course their legendary contributions to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack (1977).
The brothers Gibb’s biggest hits from this platinum period are already well represented by the somewhat inaccurately titled double CD Bee Gees Greatest. But for those who want to dig deeper into each of these titles, this handy clamshell box collects the individual albums and distills … Fever down to its contributions from the Bee Gees on a bonus disc.
While the packaging is slipshod at best, the music isn’t remastered, there aren’t extra tracks added to the individual discs and, perhaps most frustratingly, no biographical recap, there is little to fault musically about the set. Artistically the Bee Gees were in dire need of a change after eleven previous singer/songwriter releases that were beginning to sound stale. Enter Mardin to help them usher in one of the most successful second acts in pop history.
The band’s disco/dance approach is what put them on the radio and generated platinum sales, but many forget there were plenty of beautiful, even timeless ballads recorded during these years. Songs such as “Love So Right,” “Fanny Be Tender with My Love,” “Love Me,” “Stop (Think Again),” and “I’m Satisfied” stand the test of time—and Barry Gibb’s occasionally grating falsetto—as terrific tunes that would sound just as sumptuous stripped down to guitar and voice.
It can’t help but be a nostalgia trip, yet this short span is ripe for rediscovery, especially for those interested in unearthing hidden gems that never got airplay. The Bee Gees might be considered singles artists, but only by those who never took the effort to appreciate how solid and well sequenced these albums are. Hearing the songs, most in the context they were created, shines fresh light on how immensely talented all three brothers were as vocalists, songwriters, singers, lyricists and arrangers. It’s also worth noting that even at the height of their fame, quality control stayed unusually high.
This was far from the end of the Bee Gees story, even if they never again attained the crossover acclaim accorded them during this era. Still, even with their rich catalog both before and after this five year stretch, it’s what they will most be remembered for.
So find your satin shirts, shake out those bell bottom pants, track down some platform shoes and dig in.