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About the Bee Gees
"Incredible Highs and Lows" by Nicholas James

When Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb collected their Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music in 1997, they had reached a pinnacle of their long and illustrious career. This career had effectively come full circle, but they had now received something that they had been striving for all their lives. Not record sales, as big hits have been a feature of every era in which they have written and performed. Not fame either, as the Bee Gees had been household names for thirty years at the time. And certainly not wealth; their multiple talents in song writing, producing and performing ensured that they were amongst the wealthiest artists in the world. No. What they achieved on that night was the adoration and acclaim not only of musical critics, who had been warming again to their music for almost a decade by then, but the adoration and acclaim of their peers.

And since that evening back in 1997, they have managed to retain and build upon that acclaim, taking their rightful place as one of only a handful of artists who it can truly be said have changed the face of popular music.

The Bee Gees career is one of superlatives. By the time that the untimely and unexpected death of Maurice Gibb was announced in January 2003, the Bee Gees could easily boast the longest career of any mainstream recording band, measured in terms of the longevity of their hit-making, both for themselves and other artists. In terms of record sales, they were credited as the fifth best-selling artists of all time, behind only the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney. Their album Saturday Night Fever is still the best-selling soundtrack album of all time, and their 1998 album One Night Only is now ranked amongst the best-selling live albums of all time.

But their career didn't start at the top. The Bee Gees were certainly no product of a television talent show, they were a product of an unusually strong home-grown musical talent, matched with an indomitable determination; three boys who just wanted to be famous. By the late 1950s, the young Manx-born brothers, Barry (born 1 September 1946) and twins Robin and Maurice (born 22 December 1949) were living in Australia, their family having emigrated from their home country of Great Britain. The brothers took any opportunity to perform hits of the day, and it wasn't long before Barry started writing his own songs. By the early 1960s, they had landed themselves a recording contract with Australia's Festival Records. Whilst this period of writing and recording (which saw Robin and Maurice also start composing songs) did not result in any major hits, it demonstrated that the three brothers had an almost uncanny ability to write songs that betrayed their young age. Many established Australian recording artists of the time recorded their songs, perhaps unaware that they were written by teenagers. The brothers also discovered that they could harmonise with startling results; the most famous three-part harmony sound in musical history was born.

A return to the United Kingdom in 1967 saw the Bee Gees sign a recording contract with Polydor Records, a company that they would stay with for almost their entire careers. Their first mainstream album, Bee Gees 1st, was an intelligent exploration of the sounds of the period, and showed for the first time the brothers' ability to create simple, powerful pop songs that were musically grounded in some of the most eclectic and perspicacious lyrics, melodies and production styles of the era. These early songs work at many levels and still strike home even now, several decades later. Their haunting first British single, 'New York Mining Disaster 1941', illustrates this perfectly. The brothers would never lose this ability, having a seemingly endless hunger to explore new sounds and styles, whilst at the same time cleverly punctuating the songs with inescapably commercial melodies. This level of self-confidence and ability in song writing and presentation had perhaps only before been seen at that time from their contemporaries, the Beatles.

They would develop their sounds and ideas throughout the 1960s in a string of hit albums: Horizontal, Idea and the sublime Odessa. This period featured many chart hits, with 'Massachusetts' (from Horizontal) and 'I've Gotta Get a Message to You' both becoming Number One hit singles. Other hits from the period included 'To Love Somebody', 'Words' and 'First of May'. But as the 1960s drew to a close, there was trouble ahead.



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