Who would have thought that the Bee Gees, a trio of falsetto singers comprised of three English brothers artfully festooned in polyester and rayon, would skyrocket to international stardom? To some the group must have seemed like an overnight success, but the Gibb brothers’ musical act actually simmered for decades before Saturday Night Fever made them a staple of the ’70s disco era. In celebration of twin brothers Robin and Maurice Gibb’s birthdays, DYR commemorates the Bee Gees’ high-pitched melodic brilliance with a look back at their illustrious career.
The brothers were born on the Isle of Man off the coast of Scotland, and lived in Manchester, England, for the majority of their youth. In 1958, the whole Gibb gang moved to Queensland, Australia, where they started their musical career, performing at local bars and clubs. Led by Robin’s strong vibrato, the group officially became the Bee Gees (“Brothers Gibb”) in 1959, a suggestion from radio DJ Bill Gates.
The trio played small venues all over Australia for the majority of the next decade, and had tepid success with the 1966 single “Spicks and Specks.” Frustrated by their lack of acclaim, the brothers moved back to Manchester, but not before sending a copy of their demo to mega-manager Robert Stigwood. He signed the group immediately, and the Bee Gees’ second British single, “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” became an instant radio hit—though most listeners assumed it was the Beatles they were listening to. Around this time the group added Colin Petersen and Vince Melouney in order to make the group a band.
In 1968, they made their first promotional trip to the United States, appearing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, but failed to gain traction. The early ’70s was a moderately successful era for the trio, thanks to the singles “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” which Al Green covered in 1972. By 1973, however, the group was in a rut. The album Life in a Tin Can and its single, “Saw a New Morning,” sold poorly, just barely breaking the top 100.
To help mitigate their losses, the group released a second Best of Bee Gees album, but it did not repeat the success of the first. At the urging of the head of their U.S. label, Atlantic Records, the group recorded with famed soul producer Arif Mardin, launching their now signature R&B sound.
In 1975, the group settled in Miami, Florida, where they evolved their sound to become more of a disco beat. The public responded positively to the shift, especially to the singles “Jive Talking” and “Nights on Broadway,” sending their LP Main Course soaring on the charts.
Given their success with disco, the group agreed to be part of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack—considered to be among the top five best-selling soundtracks of all time. While it ignited national disco fever, many critics point out that the scene in New York was played out at the time of its release. As it turns out, the movie and soundtrack just prolonged the fad, and spread the dance craze inland.
The Bee Gees’ seemingly overnight success rose and fell with the disco wave, and by 1979 the public was strung out on the genre’s mind-numbing repetitiveness. Consequently, the band’s U.S. career fell into a tailspin, but not before several attempts to cling to pop-culture relevance, like this 1980 collab with Barbra Streisand.