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 Sunday, 12 January, 2003, 08:09 GMT
The Bee Gees: Brothers in harmony
The Bee Gees
The Bee Gees: Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb
As the music world mourns the death of Bee Gee Maurice Gibb, Andrew Walker of BBC's News Profiles Unit looks at the Gibb brothers' remarkable success.

Beyond the "disco king" image, often crudely portrayed by the media, of white teeth, falsetto voices and nylon jump-suits, the story of the Bee Gees is one of extraordinary and long-lasting popularity.

With world-wide record sales exceeding 110 million, they are in the top five of the most successful recording artists of all time, together with The Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson and Sir Paul McCartney.

Bee Gees songs have been covered by everyone from Elvis through Otis Redding, Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick to newer acts like Steps and Destiny's Child.

Manx roots

Barry Gibb was born in the Isle of Man in September 1946, twin brothers Robin and Maurice three years later.

Younger brother Andy, who enjoyed his own transatlantic disco hits with I Just Want to Be Your Everything, (Love Is) Thicker Than Water, and Shadow Dancing, battled with drugs before dying, aged 30, in March 1988.

Precocious performers - the name Bee Gees comes from 'brothers Gibb' - they first appeared before an audience at a Manchester cinema in 1955, three years before the family emigrated to Australia.

Barry Gibb
Barry Gibb
Soon established as child stars in their adoptive country, the trio's many appearances on radio and television brought them popularity and a Australian number one with 1966's Spick and Speck.

The following year the brothers returned to the United Kingdom where they were signed up by the pop impresario Robert Stigwood.

The first four Bee Gees albums - Bee Gees First, Horizontal, Idea and Odessa - contained a host of hit singles, including 1941 New York Mining Disaster, Massachusetts (the first of their five UK number one hits) and Words.

"Blue-eyed soul"

Their Beatles-inspired harmonies and lyrical, if muted, musical style developed, in the 1970s, into what was to become known as "blue-eyed soul."

A rocky period, during which they split, reformed and had an album, aptly-titled A Kick in the Pants is Worth Eight in the Head, rejected by their record company, ended with the release of Mr Natural in 1974.

During the following three years a series of slickly-produced hits including Jive Talking, Nights on Broadway and You Should be Dancing redeemed the group's reputation.

The Bee Gees sing Stayin' Alive
Stayin' Alive appeared on the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack
When Stigwood decided to produce Saturday Night Fever, a film adaptation of journalist Nik Cohn's article on the disco subculture, it was obvious that the Bee Gees should help provide the soundtrack.

Night Fever became an international phenomenon, bringing its star, John Travolta, a first taste of superstardom.

Music from the film provided the best-selling soundtrack album ever and saw the Bee Gees, who were never really strictly a disco group, rack up a series of huge hits: Stayin' Alive, If I Can't Have You, Night Fever, Tragedy and How Deep is your Love?

The 1980s saw the brothers move from performing to writing and producing, working with Barbra Streisand on her biggest hit, the Grammy-winning Guilty, with Diana Ross on Chain Reaction and with Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers on the country hit Islands in the Stream.

Back on top

Proving themselves once more the master of the pop idiom, the Bee Gees returned to the top of the charts in 1987 with the anthemic You Win Again. Resuming touring after a hiatus of ten years, the group filled concert halls around the world.

Their musical style is tantalisingly simple and accessible: upbeat melodies complement what might now be called old-fashioned lyrics and are topped off by the group's trademark harmonies.

Steps are among those to have covered the Bee Gees
It is highly-crafted, maybe slightly anodyne but, even so, still supremely popular.

But something about the Bee Gees has the effortless ability to get under some people's skin. The comedian Angus Deayton formed part of the spoof group, The Hebegeebees, which enjoyed a minor hit with Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices.

And in 1997 they stormed off a chat-show when its host, the acerbic Clive Anderson, revealed that they had once toyed with the idea of being called Les Tossers before quipping, "You'll always be tossers to me."

Often covered

But the stage musical revival of Saturday Night Fever, combined with the success of cover versions, such as Steps' take on Tragedy, have kept the Bee Gees very much in the public eye, though they dismissed Robbie Williams' version of I Started a Joke as "the kind of thing you'd hear in a lunatic asylum."

Agents and producers anxious to promote often limited acts see the Bee Gees as nothing less than high priests of pop. If Barry, Robin and Maurice can't pave your way to the stars, then nothing can.

With hits across five decades, it seems that, either love 'em or hate 'em, they have secured themselves a unique position in pop history.

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12 Jan 03 | Music
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