Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Robin Gibb R.I.P.

Robin Gibb, one of the youngest (with his fraternal twin Maurice) of the brother act known as The Bee Gees, died on 20 May 2012 at the age of 62. The cause was colon cancer. He was preceded in death by his twin Maurice and his younger brother Andy Gibb.

Robin Gibb was born on 22 December 1949 in Douglas, Isle of Man. When older brother Barry was about seven and the twins were about four, the family moved to Manchester, England. It was in 1958 that the family moved to Brisbane, South East Queensland, Australia. It was in Australia that the brothers launched their music career. By the early Sixties The Bee Gees were appearing on television in Australia and performing at various resorts. They released their first single, "The Battle of the Blue and Grey," in Australia in 1963. They would release several more singles in Australia from 1963 to 1966. Their single "Wine and Women" went to number 19 on the Australian charts in 1965. It success led to their first album, The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs.  Their single "Spicks and Specks" would hit  number 5 in Australia and number 1 in New Zealand. It was included on the album Spicks and Specks.

Following the success of singles in Australia and the release of two albums, Barry Gibb demos of The Bee Gees were sent to Beatles manager Brian Epstein. Brian Epstein gave the demos to promoter Robert Stigwood, who signed The Bee Gees to a contract with Polydor Records in the United Kingdom and Atco Records in the United States. Their single, "New York Mining Disaster 1941," was released in April 1967 in the United Kingdom and in May 1967 in the United States. It would prove to be their first hit in both countries.  On the British singles chart it went to #12. On the American Billboard Hot 100 it went to #14. In July a second single was released, "To Love Somebody," which went to #41 on the British singles chart and #17 on the American singles chart. That same month saw the release of their first album in the United Kingdom and the United States. Titled Bee Gees' 1st (even though it was technically their third album), it went to #8 in the United Kingdom and #7 in the United States on the albums chart.

The Bee Gees would prove to be one of the most popular groups of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Their single "Massachusetts," released in late 1967, would go to #1 in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. It was followed in early 1968 by the single "Words" and the album Horizontal. The Bee Gees would have further success with such singles as "I've Gotta Get a Message to You," "I Started A Joke," "Lonely Days," "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," and "Run To Me," many of which went top twenty in the United States, United Kingdom, or both. Their albums Idea and Odessa, and Cucumber Castle would hit the top 20 of the United Kingdom and United States' album charts.  Unfortunately, discord would enter The Bee Gees in the late Sixties.  This would result in Robin Gibb leaving The Bee Gees in an attempt to launch a solo career. This would result in the release of his first solo album, Robin's Reign, in 1970. His brothers carried on as The Bee Gees without him.

Robin Gibb returned to The Bee Gees in late 1970. The resulting album, 2 Years On, would not chart in the United Kingdom, but went to #32 on the album chart. The single "Lonely Days," from the album, would go to #3 in the United States and #1 in Canada. Their next two albums, Trafalgar and To Whom It May Concern, would be moderate successes in the United States. They would also have hits with the singles "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart" and "Run To Me" in the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, their album Life in a Tin Can would sell poorly. The first single from the album, "Saw a New Morning," did not chart in the United Kingdom and only reached #98 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.

With their next album The Bee Gees would change direction. RSO rejected the groups' follow up to Life in a Tin Can, which had the proposed title of A Kick In The Head Is Worth Eight In The Pants. It was on the advice of Atlantic executives Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun that Robert Stigwood hired Arif Mardin as their producer. It was Mr. Mardin who encouraged The Bee Gees to explore the disco scene then emerging in 1973. While Mr. Natural would perform poorly, it would chart their career for the next few years. Indeed, their next album, Main Course,  would see The Bee Gees actually perform disco songs. One of those disco songs on the album, "Jive Talkin'," would reach the top ten on the singles charts in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada. The album itself would reach the top ten on the American album chart.

The Bee Gees' next album, Children of the World, can be considered an outright disco album. It would perform even better than Main Course had. The first single from the album, "You Should Be Dancing," also proved to be a hit, reaching the top ten of the British, American, and Canadian singles charts. With The Bee Gees established as disco artists, it was then natural that they would compose and perform songs for Saturday Night Fever, a movie based around the disco scene. The movie's soundtrack album would produce yet more hits for The Bee Gees, including "How Deep Is Your Love", "Stayin' Alive", and "Night Fever."  While at this point in their career it seemed as if everything The Bee Gees touched turned to gold, they would play a role in an enormous flop. The Bee Gees co-starred with Peter Frampton in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Critics raked the movie over the coals and the public avoided both it and the movie's soundtrack album.

The Bee Gees' next album, Spirits Having Flown would see them at the height of their success. It went to #1 in the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada. It also produced three hit songs. Unfortunately for The Bee Gees, 1979 saw the disco fad coming to an end. Never popular with rock fans, disco saw the general public turn on the genre. The Bee Gees would be caught up in the backlash against the genre. They would not have another hit song until "You Win Again" in 1987.  While their albums would do respectably well in the United Kingdom, they would not even reach the American top 50 until Still Waters in 1991.

It was in the Eighties that Robin Gibb would resume his solo career. Starting with How Old Are You? in 1983, he released six albums from 1983 to 2012.  Following the success of 1991's Still Waters, The Bee Gees would record their last album, This is Where I Came In. Released in 2001, it went to #6 in the United Kingdom and #16 in the United States.

I must confess that I was never a fan of The Bee Gees' disco songs. That having been said, I think that their work before 1973 was pure genius. Songs such as "New York Mining Disaster 1941," "Holiday," "Words," "I Started a Joke," and "Run to Me" were some of the best songs of the late Sixties and early Seventies, and Robin Gibb co-wrote all of them. They had a unique style with strong harmonies that usually included strings and horns. While not quite symphonic rock or baroque rock, I honestly believe that they had a huge impact on both genres. It is for that reason that I find it sad that most people tend to think of "disco" when they think of The Bee Gees and some may dismiss them out of hand for that reason. It is true that some of their biggest success emerged from disco songs, but they already had a long career of crafting beautiful, melodic songs long before the disco era. When I think of Robin Gibb and his brothers, then, I do not think of "Stayin' Alive." Instead I think of such songs as "Holiday," "I Started a Joke," and "Run To Me." I think that in the long run those may be the songs for which they are best remembered.

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