The Bee Gees recorded enough material from the 1970s to easily fill a greatest hits collection. This is not a greatest hits collection although he has many of their most famous and enduring songs. My challenge was to not go over 79 minutes (a typical CD-R). What you’ll have are ballads and dance songs. Go on, you want to shake your groove thing. It’s pretty obvious.
There are some noticeable absences and I went for a few live versions, plus several that weren’t really Bee Gees songs, but have a definite connection. Outside of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, there was not a bigger band. The Bee Gees helped define the decade, and they did this even though they had a fallow period for most of the first half of the decade. That shows you how big the rest of the decade was for them. Besides their own albums, the Gibb Brothers wrote songs for other artists, something they would do in the 1980s when their own career hit a major dip.
Here we go.
“I Started a Joke” Not a 1970s release, but it was performed in concert during the decade. There is a really good live version, just the brothers and their guitar.
“Lonely Days” released in 1970, got as high as number three on the chart, and it marked the reunion of the Gibb Brothers after more than a year after Robin left the group. The song has a very nice arrangement, one of the best vocal arrangements but the structure of the song takes you through several style and tempo changes.
From their 1971 album Trafalgar, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” is one of the Bee Gees early hits. They continued to play it in concert during their later successful period and it still brought the house down.
“Mr. Natural” is a song you probably do not remember. From the album of the same name, it was released in 1974, when the Bee Gees were releasing albums no one was buying. The song barely broke the top 100 in America.
When the Bee Gees were recording Main Course in 1975, they were in trouble, their popularity was in decline and their albums were not selling. They were recording in Florida, at the studio that had brought Eric Clapton comeback success, however, they were stuck in the same musical formula. After listening to some of the finished songs, the feedback was, start over, and listen to some new sounds. They didn’t abandon the entire album, but they reworked a couple of songs and wrote some new ones, incorporating the increasingly popular R&B sound. Smart move.
From Main Course, two groove tracks, “Nights on Broadway” and “Jive Talkin'” announced the Bees Gees had a new sound. The album was produced by Arif Mardin.
“Jive Talkin'” That continuous beat was inspired by the sound an automobile tires made on the seams of the bridge pavement. This was funkier than the Bee Gees were, who thought that “jive” meant dance, something different than in America. The bass was usually played by Maurice Gibb but it was created on the synthesizer and then augmented by Gibb. This song has a very urban feel to it and makes the synth very funky. This was the first number one hit for the group in five years, in part because their record label did not identify the group on copies they sent to DJs, fearing the song wouldn’t get played.
“Nights on Broadway” Another funky song, courtesy of the synthesizer and bass. This song launched the falsetto of Barry, who would ride this vocal ability for many more hits. A top ten single. According to Barry Gibb: “It came to me in a dream. There was a request by Arif Mardin, who was like an uncle to us, he was a great record producer during the song ‘Nights On Broadway,’ for the Main Course album, which is previous to the ‘Fever’ syndrome. And he said, ‘Can any of you scream… scream in falsetto.’ So, you know, give us an ad lib or a scream at the end. So from screaming, it turned into things like Blaming It All.” It is a funky song with great guitar.
“Fanny” A number 12 hit and my favorite song from this or any Bee Gees album. Maybe the best Bee Gees vocal performance on the album. I’m biased, I love the song.
“You Should Be Dancing” A number one hit. Disco? Maybe. Really more a souped-up R&B hit. Credit Maurice Gibb who wrote the bass grooves for many of the Bee Gees hits. He came up with the great horn arrangement. He did not sing many leads but he was the real musician in the family, playing bass, guitar and keyboards. If you don’t like the dancing reference, enjoy the fantastic jackrabbit groove in the song.
“Love So Right” Barry Gibb admitted that the Bee Gees were trying to imitate the R&B groups of the era in how they wrote the vocals. They wrote a classic. Whether it was Motown or the Philly sound, they produced a song that stands on its own. A vocal arrangement that kills.
The soundtrack sold 30 million copies and won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
“Stayin’ Alive” Four weeks at number one. Who can forget the intro to the song. The Bee Gees created some of the most memorable song intros of the decade. The song had a moving bass line that drove the song but also gave it some funk. The song has fine guitar work from the Bee Gees band including the intro. Interestingly, the first director hired for Saturday Night Fever did not want the Bee Gees’ music. Imagine the 1970s without this song. The production team of these songs never get enough credit.
“Night Fever” A number one song for eight weeks. My favorite track from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The funky rhythm guitar is a killer, Barry Gibb was great at creating the framework for the every song. They kept their band together throughout the decade.
“More Than a Woman” Not released as a single but still one of the best songs from the album and a permanent part of the live song lineup. The electric piano accompaniment is quite lovely, with the disco string arrangement. I’ve always liked this song.
“How Deep is Your Love” A lovely ballad from the film and another number one song. It is a beautiful lead vocal from Barry. The backing vocals are some of the best the Bee Gees ever did. Who didn’t slow dance to this song? The arrangement was spot-on.
If I Can’t Have You” Originally sung by Yvonne Elliman, it was her version that was a hit. The Bee Gees version is good but it lacks the enormous passion that Elliman gave it. Still an enjoyable version.
“I Just Want to Be Your Everything” Not a Bee Gees song, but written by Barry for brother Andy’s first album. Produced by the Bee Gees production team of Barry, Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten. The song logged four weeks at number one in America, not bad for a debut. Barry contributed background vocals and yes, that is the Eagles’ Joe Walsh on lead guitar. The song doesn’t have the usual Bee Gees swagger but it fits the more gentle style of youngest brother Andy.
“Love is Thicker Than Water” Co-written by Barry and Andy, this is even a better song, again a number one hit. This song rocks even harder in places, with Joe Walsh collecting another Gold Record. Barry Gibb in the 1970s was Paul McCartney in the 1960s as a songwriter. Largely, Andy Gibbs’ songs are sadly forgotten today, his time was brief and a tragedy.
“Grease” Written by the Bee Gees for the feature film. It was originally sung by Frankie Valli, reaching number one and selling over two million copies. Peter Frampton plays guitar on the original track. The Bee Gee recorded a live version of the track with Valli sharing the vocals.
This 1979 album would be the turning point in the Bee Gees career. The dance era was changing and the backlash against it was directed at the Bee Gees. In a few short years, the Bee Gees had perfected the recording process in smooth R&B, now increasingly from advances in synthesizers and programming beats and rhythms. The album easily reahed the top of the charts and would eventually sell more than 20 million copies.
“Tragedy” It was obvious the Bee Gees were in command of studio wizardry and layers of programmed synthesized sound. Less rocking as “Staying Alive” or “Night Fever” this song was upbeat and had some initiative bass patterns. A number one song that sold more than two million copies.
“Too Much Heaven” Another number one song (their fourth of the year) and two million seller. As prolific as the Beach Boys were in vocal harmonies, the Bee Gees layered many harmony vocals together on this track. Written during the Sgt Pepper filming, at least some nice songs emerged from such a failed project. The profits when to UNICEF.
“Love You Inside and Out” This song has the distinction of being the last number one song for the Bee Gees. It is a fine song, a slow love song. The Bee Gees formula was finally giving out as the decade ended. The production is more restrained than some other songs, which is good, the song doesn’t need high gloss to shine.
Twenty songs across 79 minutes. What a decade.