It happened so quickly. One day I was watching Frank Marshall’s new Bee Gees documentary for the first time, coming to it with a rough memory of their disco years coupled with a vague understanding of a half-life before and after, culminating in them walking out of a 1997 interview with hilarious chat show host Clive Anderson.
Only a short time later I was two re-watches in and shaking my head with a fond smile on my face at all those people who don’t know anything about the Bee Gees except their disco years, while wishing Clive Anderson’s long-cancelled chat show to be cancelled anew by a thousand Bee Gees tweet-bots.
Now, two weeks further on, I am still listening to the Bee Gees on my daily dog walks and I’m not even bored yet, though poor Daisy – after a fortnight of furiously-paced “ambles” as I bounced along listening to Stayin’ Alive – is relieved that I’ve started working backwards to the ballads.
And I’m still only a tiny fraction of the way through the reported 1000 songs that they wrote! As soon as I get slightly weary of Nights On Broadway on repeat, I simply search for something new. Up pops not just another song but often a whole new Greatest Hits album, and off I go with Fanny (Be Tender With My Love). Any day now I’ll discover their Greatest Hits Albums’ Greatest Hits Album, and the world will explode.
It’s fair to say that since my first viewing of The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart I have completely transformed from “yeah, DISCO!” to “oh my god I cannot listen to any other music but the Bee Gees 1967-1997”. Even my 8 year old has noticed, butting in the other day after I started saying “Alexa, play…” with “THE BEE GEES!” and then dancing round the room to Tragedy.
There is talk now of a Bee Gees biopic, with Bradley Cooper playing Barry Gibb. Hopefully it will do better than the 1978 musical film the band appeared in, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, produced by their longtime manager Robert Stigwood. Utilising music from The Beatles’ album of the same name and from Abbey Road, it starred Barry, Robin and Maurice, as well as Steve Martin and a plethora of musical and acting stars. It sounds completely bizarre, and while it was a minor box office hit was critically panned.
I have yet to track a UK copy down, though I’m intrigued more than anything else. Musicals are my most wtf? movie genre anyway as they don’t make any sense to me. Aliens bursting out of people’s chests, or a dog-loving hitman taking out 20 opponents at once and then chopping off his own finger? Bring it on. But people randomly breaking into song, often songs that are entirely inappropriate for the age the musical is set in? (Why yes, I was indeed expecting a Victorian ditty about not putting your elephant on the stage, Mrs Worthington in Greatest Showman.)
And if there’s one thing the Bee Gees were good at, it was making music entirely appropriate for the age they found themselves in.
Musically, they are exceptional. You can zigzag through every genre with them as your guide: ’60s pop, R&B, disco, ’80s power ballads.
Lyrically, they can easily hit sharply painful genius (“when I was being what you want me to be,” in Heartbreaker being particularly acute; if I could make teenage me stop singing along and actually listen to the lyrics of that, I would) though there are certainly some themes that appear again and again.
Barry does spend a lot of time mooning around after girls while standing in the rain, possibly a result of his early days growing up in Manchester. Fanny (standing in the rain, though not all night); Love You Inside And Out (her cheatin’ leaving him crying in the rain); How Can You Mend A Broken Heart (pondering how to stop the rain falling); Heartbreaker (crying in the rain, again) – Barry, if you’d spent your formative years in Newcastle like me, you’d have been singing about freezing your nuts off in the snow with no coat on. Every Geordie love story ends like this:
Still, repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Personally, I like Barry Gibb’s frequent references to his woman; he’s always exhibited a particular kind of uncomplicated masculinity but with a yearning streak, and it comes across in his lyrics. Admittedly at times, when I’m feeling particularly brisk, I find myself thinking “toughen up Barry, she’s not worth it!” as he complains gorgeously about some misbehaving lover, though he’s certainly done just that by 1987’s Ivor Norvello-winning You Win Again. With all its battle-related imagery he just stops short of suggesting he raise her portcullis, but it’s a close-run thing.
Never mind the music & lyrics though – which Bee Gee is v.g.? Maurice looks extremely cute in the film in an interview from the late 1990s, with more than a touch of the George Michaels about him. It’s also undeniable that as a group the trio possessed the best butts in show business, and the ’70s, with those slimline satin pants, showed them off to perfection.
But there has to be one winner – and like a heat-seeking missile, I have homed in on the Hottest Bee Gee.
I’m sorry, but Barry wins. I don’t make the rules on here! Actually I do, which is why Barry wins.
Whether he’s ’60s clean-shaven with knife-edge cheekbones and Edwardian cravats, 70s-hunky with his chest on show and that lion’s mane, or a middle-aged ’90s dad in jeans and white shirts, his hair shorter but floppier, we all know very well that if we were going to waste a perfectly good pair of knickers by throwing them on stage we’d have aimed for Barry.
But I can’t write an article about the Bee Gees without also homing in on family. I’m the third of four allegedly now-adult children, and the middle of three girls. Sadly – or perhaps not, if you have any particularly valuable glassware, or a dog you don’t want running off whenever it hears a high-pitched squeal – we don’t sing together. So where Barry, Maurice and Robin produced amazing harmonies interspersed with flouncing, we only have the flouncing. Still, it means I certainly understand the in-band arguments that took them straight back to their childhood roles.
And as the third of four, like Maurice Gibb in the film I tend to consider myself the peacemaker, so I can only say I hope my top 5 Bee Gees tunes, below, don’t prevent any of you from stayin’ alive. Because as we’re all aware, nobody gets too much heaven no more.
So in no particular order, but with a ground-breaking drumloop and 15 layers of harmonies to introduce them, here they are:
To Love Somebody
Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)
You Should Be Dancing
Nights On Broadway
(These are subject to daily change so if you’re going to criticise my choices in the comments you’ll need to name them.)
Read my review of The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart