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Last Man Standing… Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb Gets a Message to Us

Last Man Standing… Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb Gets a Message to Us

If you thought The Bee Gees were just a disco band, then think again. Even though they created a large part of the highly successful movie soundtrack, Saturday Night Fever, which brought the disco craze to the mainstream and turned them into mega superstars, the outstanding new 2020 HBOMax documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart shows they are so much more. The depth of their songwriting talent as a pop band is incredible and this documentary revisits just how prolific this band of Gibb brothers (older brother Barry and twins Robin and Maurice) have been for so many decades. It is a deep study into their extraordinary musical bond and rise to superstardom, not once but multiple times. They have sold more than 220 million records. It shows how determined they were to make it, come hell or highwater. They were born to perform and previously unseen archival footage of their early performances is endearing and enlightening. From a very early age, they were living a life immersed in music, with total support from their enthusiastic and supportive parents, Hugh and Barbara. Barry got a guitar for his ninth Birthday and his younger brothers (three years younger) began singing with him. They had begun performing as young children in England and then the family moved to Australia in 1958, where they grew up performing.

In Australia, they recorded an album called Spicks and Specks, that would serve as a demo. Realizing the Beatles were doing in England what they had been trying to do in Australia, they moved back to England in 1967 to join the British invasion. Their father had sent the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, a letter/demos and Epstein passed it on to his associate Robert Stigwood, who would be perfect, as he was from Australia. Stigwood immediately fell in love with their entire package and said, “You can’t deny talent and their talent was so obvious.” He began managing them and took them to New York to help them get a record deal with Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic Records/Atco, as he felt it was best suited for them to go in the direction of R&B/Soul. They went to see Otis Redding live and wrote “To Love Somebody” for him to record, but sadly Redding died in a plane crash shortly after, before he got to record it.

They were an extraordinary pop group that was able to pull hits seemingly out of the air. This is such a well-directed and emotional tribute by director Frank Marshall that shows their struggles, ups and downs, and at times, breaks your heart. They had charted in Australia since 1963 but “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” released in 1967, and was their first charted US and UK hit. They were off and running with more hits flowing, “To Love Somebody,” “Holiday,”” Massachusetts” and “I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You,” but Robin and Barry were butting heads and they had a short lived breakup (a little over 18 months), as they eventually realized they were better together. Reuniting In 1970, “Lonely Days” shows a more mature Bee Gees and charted #3 in the US. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (written the same day) was released in 1971 and hit #1 in the

US. Then by 1972, the hits dried up and the fickle public turned on them and for 1973/74 they were practically non-existent. Never losing faith in themselves, they went back to the drawing board and were reinvented by a trip to Miami on the suggestion of Eric Clapton, who had recorded his comeback album 461 Ocean Boulevard in Golden Beach, Florida, while living at that house and recording his album at Criteria Studios in North Miami. The Bee Gees came and stayed at 461 Ocean Boulevard and loved staying at the house and loved recording at Criteria Recording Studios. Producer Arif Marden was brought in from Atlantic Records and was instrumental to their new Funk/R & B sound, complete with synthesizers. Their 1975 album Main Course relaunched them as a dance band and produced the hits “Jive Talkin,’” “Nights on Broadway,” and “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love).” Alan Kendall (Guitar), Dennis Byron (Drums), and Blue Weaver (Keyboards), completed their band and were also vital to their new sound. Blue Weaver was happily touring with Mott the Hoople/Queen but was persuaded by his good friend and drummer Dennis Byron to join the Bee Gees. After he met them, he couldn’t say no. All of the Gibb brothers fell in love with Miami and it would become home for them. If you are familiar with Miami, you will recognize and enjoy many of the cool scenes featured in this documentary.

For tax reasons, they were sent to France to record their next album at the recording studio that Elton John recorded his Honky Chateau album. Turns out the studio was a half-finished mess of a castle with no heating and a very unpleasant place, but while they were trying to make their new album, Robert Stigwood called and asked them to come up with some songs for a movie he was doing that would become Saturday Night Fever. They made a demo tape of “If I Can’t Have You,” ”Night Fever,” “More Than A Woman,” and “Stayin’ Alive.” Stigwood also asked them to write the best love song they could write, which turned into “How Deep is Your Love.” Once again, they delivered, but no one could have predicted just how massive the success would be, as well as winning a Grammy Award to boot. The Bee Gees brought melody to Disco and the soundtrack sold more albums than any other recording at that time, with 25 million sold between 1977-1980. There are many more juicy and interesting details in this documentary that make it so worth it.

After the massive success of Saturday Night Fever, disco became too commercialized and there was a tremendous disco backlash. Chicago DJ Steve Dahl organized a disco demolition night on July 12, 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, where thousands of people were let in for 98 cents to a double header baseball game if they brought a disco record to destroy. Thousands of disco hating people stormed the field and the second game was canceled. Meanwhile, the Bee Gees were selling out and on an amazingly successful tour but then radio suddenly turned against them and refused to play their music. Barry defended against the backlash by saying, “We’re just a pop band.” Even though they were not a disco band, they got bomb threats and were forced into keeping a low profile. Robin’s wife Dwina Gibb explained, “Robin felt shy to be in public from the terrible backlash and couldn’t do anything as The Bee Gees.” So, they turned to songwriting for others. Barbra Streisand called Barry up asking for songs and he wrote all the songs on her Guilty album, with “Woman in Love” being the lead off hit that spent three weeks at number one on the Hot Billboard 100. Barry also sang a duet with Barbra on the song “Guilty” and “What Kind of Fool,” and posed on the striking cover of Guilty with her. Then he wrote massive hits for Dionne Warwick (“Heartbreaker”), Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers (“Islands in The Stream,”) and Celine Dion (“Immortality.”)

Even if they were not at the top of your hit list, this documentary is well worth a watch, as it is so well done and deeply moving. It showcases their enormous wealth of talent, creating 1000 songs for themselves and also for other top musicians. They had twenty #1 singles in the US and UK. It contains many illuminating interviews from various musicians and music legends including Eric Clapton, Lulu, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Jonas Brothers’ Nick Jonas, Oasis’ Noel Gallagher and the sole survivor Gibb Brother, Barry, after his three brothers died way too soon. The youngest brother Andy, after becoming a teen idol on his own had officially joined the Bee Gees in 1988 but died later that year, at only 30, from a heart attack after years of drug abuse. Maurice died in 2003 after complications from a twisted intestine while at a hospital on Miami Beach. Robin died in 2012 after a long battle with cancer. The many clips of Robin and Maurice were lifted from a 1999 interview. The ending is gut wrenching with reflections from Barry overlooking the Miami Bay saying, “We had this dream. What did we want to be famous for? Turns out it was the songwriting. Everything we set out to do, we did. I can’t come to terms with the fact that they aren’t here anymore. I’d rather have them all here and no hits at all.” The songwriting, performances, and their determination to never give up, leaves you with a profound sense of awe and respect. The magnitude of the mark they left on generations is mind boggling. It’s no accident that their song “Words” plays over the closing credits with the lyrics “It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away.” This sentimental documentary is guaranteed to take your heart away. Another song that plays over the closing credits is their 1966 song “Butterfly” that was written by the brothers when they were young and living in Australia. The first line of “Butterfly” mentions green fields; and Barry released in January, 2021 a new album of duets called Greenfields – The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook Vol. 1 that goes well with the new Bee Gees Documentary. It is his beloved Bee Gee hits redone in the spirit of country music with the country/bluegrass essence that he loved growing up in Australia. Barry duets with an all-star collection of some of his favorite country/bluegrass music legends and modern popular musicians. Barry expressed, in the CD liner notes, his appreciation for these musicians and his six-time Grammy Award winning Nashville producer Dave Cobbs, by saying, “I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to work with Dave and all the artists who stopped by. They were all incredibly generous with their time and talent. They inspired me more than words can express.” Dave Cobbs is best known for producing the work of country greats Chris Stapleton, John Prine, Jason Isbell, The Highwomen, Sturgill Simpson, Jay Buchanan from Rival Sons, and Brandi Carlile. Barry’s son Stephen played for him Chris Stapleton produced by Dave Cobb; and Barry wanted Cobb to produce for him. They recorded at the RCA Studios in Nashville, where Elvis Presley, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbsion,

The Everly Brothers and so many other legends made their magic. While Dolly was recording the song she picked for Greenfields, “Words,” she stood at the same place she had recorded “I Will Always Love You” and “Jolene.” Barry said, “the album took on a life of its own by recording in such a special place.” “Here it is, an album of our songs, reborn through these incredibly gifted singers.” He seems ever so humble and grateful. As he puts it, “Failure toughens you up. Things not working out makes you real strong.” Barry is happy in his 50-year marriage to Linda, who he had met backstage at Top of the Pops. The secret is keeping it real. No superstars at home. On a humorous note, when interviewed about his signature (size 27) skin tight white pants, he said, “Those days are over, love.”

Keith Urban nails the opening song “I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You,” with a dynamic performance. Jason Isbell does a soulful rendition of the previously unreleased “Words of A Fool,” which Barry had planned to release on his solo album in 1986, shelved due to a Bee Gee commitment. It is a personal favorite of Barry’s and he often plays it in soundchecks. Isbell did a moving interpretation. “Run To Me” with multi Grammy winner Brandi Carlile shows what a great vocalist she is. On “Words,” you can immediately tell that it’s Dolly Parton and they blend well together. Dolly makes it special and Barry sums her up best, “When she walks in a room, it’s her room.” She made it HER song! Country group, Little Big Town, did an energetic upbeat version of “Lonely Days.”

Considering the high quality of the talent involved, it is surprising that some of the songs fall flat. A slowed down “Jive Talkin’” featuring Miranda Lambert and Jay Buchanan seems anemic. When the lyrics “you’re gonna take away my energy” is sung, it seems so lethargic that there’s no energy left to take. Not being a fan of the original “Too Much Heaven,” this new version with Alison Krauss has not changed that opinion. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” sounds decent but you’d never know it is Sheryl Crow and not any improvement on the original. “How Deep is Your Love” with guitarist Tommy Emmanuel and Little Big Town was unremarkable. On the other hand, “To Love Somebody” done with Jay Buchanan hits the mark with a soulful interpretation that would’ve made Otis Redding proud. “Butterfly” featuring Americana artists Gillian Welch and David Rawlings is stripped down, simple and beautiful, benefiting from this awesome duo that can do no wrong.

There was a magic of the blend of the Gibb brothers’ voices that is difficult to replicate, much less improve upon. This is a soft and pleasant album of ballads which will keep Bee Gees fans satisfied and please other fans interested in hearing their favorite artists do these new renditions of classic Bee Gees.

On the special exclusive edition from Target, there are two additional bonus songs, “With the Sun in My Eyes,” and “Morning of my Life,” both done by Barry alone. “With the Sun in My Eyes” was taken from the 4th Bee Gees LP Horizontal and this new version is absolutely brilliant and the album highlight. It’s a better version than the original and the original was a great song. It is highly recommended to purchase the Target version to get these bonus songs, bringing the XD to 14 tracks. It comes on CD and also has a special Target exclusive Sea Glass (beautiful) colored Vinyl edition (2 LP) for collectors. There are other colored vinyl versions of this release on eBay, but not with the bonus tracks.

The good news is that adding Vol 1 to this album implies there’s more to come. Barry confirms, “there are many more songs yet to do.” Right before the start of the February 2021 Superbowl, they played on tv a promo for the National Football League that featured the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody” and just proves how ingrained and important the Bee Gees music has been and still is today. After being knocked out by the new Bee Gees documentary, Dave Grohl of The Foo Fighters (and ex-Nirvana) did a killer version of the Bee Gees “You Should Be Dancing.” The Bee Gees are cool again!

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