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"Incredible Highs and Lows" Part Two

By the end of the 1960s, the pressure of fame, and the sometimes conflicting ambition of the brothers, resulted in Robin leaving the group to record a solo album (Robin's Reign). This spawned a massive hit single, 'Save by the Bell', which reached the UK Number 2 spot. Barry and Maurice continued as the Bee Gees, recording the album Cucumber Castle, which tied in with a television special of the same name. This also included a hit single, which - like Robin's single - reached the UK Number 2 spot. But it wasn't long until Barry and Maurice had also split, and both started work on solo albums.

Thankfully, the split was not to last long, and the three brothers were reunited in 1970, with the album 2 Years On. Barry and Maurice's solo careers would result in just one single each, neither of which set the charts alight.

The brothers then entered a comfortable period of producing one album per year. The 2 Years On album really cemented the Bee Gees' career in the USA, and the follow-up, 1971's Trafalgar album featured their first US Number One single, 'How Can You Mend a Broken Heart'. But as the early 1970s progressed, the hits on both sides of the Atlantic began to dry up. Many criticised the Bee Gees in this period for becoming bland and relying too heavily on slushy ballads. But the reality is that, whilst their music of this period on albums such as To Whom it May Concern and Life in a Tin Can, lacked the creative drive and cutting lyrics of their earlier work, the albums saw the brothers mature musically, and songs such as 'Sea of Smiling Faces', 'Alive', 'Walking Back to Waterloo' and 'Trafalgar', proved that the brothers' song writing ability was as strong as ever.

Sadly, the gradual drop in sales resulted in the Bee Gees 1973 album, A Kick in the Head is Worth Eight in the Pants, being dropped from the release schedule. It would never see the light of day. It seemed, to the public and music critics alike at the time, that the Bee Gees had reached the end of the road. Their career had followed the classic path of many pop groups through the years, with diminishing returns as interest waned; no one could have expected that they would re-emerge. In fact, a stint at the Batley Variety Club and a return to the Isle of Man suggested that they would now slip into obscurity.

But slipping into obscurity was never part of the plan. This failure made the Gibb Brothers even more hungry for success, and they began to experiment with new sounds and styles, going back to their R&B roots that could be heard on several songs from their first album. Working with producer Arif Mardin on their next album, 1974's Mr Natural, saw their musical style become much more urban, almost black influenced. Whilst the album was not a commercial success, the brothers were inspired and excited by this developing sound. They went back into the studio with Arif Mardin and produced their next album, Main Course. Many regard this album as being the finest in their entire career. With tracks like 'Jive Talkin'', 'Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)' and 'Nights on Broadway', the album got noticed, and the Bee Gees were hot property again. This was the first real sign that the Bee Gees could transcend changing fashions and tastes with their music and that they were able to use these changes to their advantage in their music, something that they would do many times in the future. The Bee Gees were back, and this time they were not going to let go.

Their 1976 album, Children of the World, cemented this new style, and saw the rapid development of a new vocal style that they had experimented with on Main Course: Barry's powerful and penetrating falsetto vocal. This was also to be used to great effect on their next two albums, Saturday Night Fever and Spirits (Having Flown). These albums produced many seminal Bee Gees classics of the period, such as 'Stayin' Alive', 'Night Fever', 'How Deep Is Your Love' and 'Tragedy'. The Bee Gees became the biggest recording artists on the planet, their success now topping their accomplishments of the late 1960s. But, yet again, it couldn't last.

In some ways, the Bee Gees were too successful, and their music got caught up in the anti-disco backlash. As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, their music was seen by many to represent an era that they now wished to consign to the dustbin. This was a shame, because the disco movement of the late 1970s had, indeed, resulted in an abundance of cheap, shameless copycat recordings, of little artistic merit. But the music of the Bee Gees in this period was well-crafted, lovingly produced music that was so distinctive and influential it changed the face of popular music across the world. Its influence would still be felt decades later, by which time it would also receive almost unanimous recognition for its value and importance in the history of modern music.

But that would take time. The Gibb Brothers new that they had to ride this backlash. The lack of success of their 1981 album, the magnificent Living Eyes, emphasised the need to take a break. History has now shown that it allowed them to, yet again, prove their longevity in a fickle industry. The brothers turned their attention to writing and producing other artists. Yes, it was the Bee Gees that were behind such famous recordings as 'Woman in Love' for Barbra Streisand, 'Heartbreaker' for Dionne Warwick, 'Islands in the Stream' for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and 'Chain Reaction' for Diana Ross. In fact, the brothers had not only written the entire albums from which the songs originated, Barry had also produced them. So, from this period, when the Bee Gees might have been expected to hibernate, they emerged stronger, and with more respect from the industry, than perhaps they had ever had. And they also happened to give each of the artists for whom they produced some of the biggest successes of their careers. And it was this period which, once and for all, proved to their (albeit decreasing number of) detractors that their musical abilities were enduring. Their success in the early 1980s speaks for itself.

Robin and Barry also experimented with solo material in this period, with musical if not great commercial success, releasing a number of albums in the period. A brief return of the Bee Gees to record the soundtrack of the film Staying Alive was almost ignored in a film that was quickly buried. But all this song writing and production work, behind the scenes, had allowed the brothers to widen their musical horizons and hone their abilities. It turned out that they were actually recharging their batteries during this period and were on the dawn of yet another new era of success.

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