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 Sunday, 12 January, 2003, 14:43 GMT
The five ages of the Bee Gees
The Bee Gees - five decades of hits together
The Bee Gees had a career marked with reinvention

To many, it was as if the Bee Gees had five careers, not one - harmony group, 60s singer songwriters, disco kings, the overlords of teen pop and bona-fide pop aristocracy.

In their 42 years making music they have released 28 albums, selling more than 110 million copies.

That makes them one of the five biggest groups in pop history.

Those figures do not show the chameleon qualities that kept them as hit makers when many of their contemporaries fell on hard times.

The most successful brothers act in the history of pop, the trio started making music in Manchester, where their father, Hugh, saw them as a male vocal group to rival black harmony troupes of the 1930s and 40s.

By the time the family moved to Brisbane, Australia in 1958, brother Maurice, Barry and Robin were beginning to write their own songs and play talent shows.
The Bee Gees sing Stayin' Alive
Stayin' Alive heralded their disco reinvention

It was the golden age of rock 'n' roll.

When they got their own TV show in Brisbane as The Bee Gees (standing for the Brothers Gibb) it paved the way for their first moves towards global stardom.

While their first album - The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs - did not make them stars in Australia, the success of The Beatles showed that their harmony-based pop had a future.

They returned to England in 1966, after finally making number one in Australia with the song Spicks and Specks.

Back home they began writing and recording their own songs, masterminded by manager Robert Stigwood, and touring with a fully-fledged band.

New York Mining Disaster 1941 was their first UK number one on 1967. It was the height of psychedelia, and this offbeat song helped make the group fledgling stars.

Other evergreen songs - Holiday and To Love Somebody - followed.

The songs were characterised by close harmonies and heavy use of falsetto.
The three Bee Gees
The Bee Gees made a comeback in the 1990s

It was Maurice who provided them with the highest harmonies, and he was also an accomplished bassist, guitarist and keyboards player.

The bright harmonies were often at odds with the downcast nature of the lyrics, a stark contract to their later, throwaway disco hits.

Their ballad Massachusetts was their first US hit, included on their second internationally-released album Horizontal in 1968.
Five classic Bee Gees albums
Horizontal (1968)
Idea (1968)
Odessa (1969)
Saturday Night Fever OST (1977)
One Night Only (l1998)

By the end of the 1960s the Bee Gees had released four albums to acclaim - their 1969 album Odessa is still regarded as a classic by many critics.

It was then it all went wrong. Unable to agree on a single to cull from this ambitious double album, Robin left the group and the band briefly dissolved.

Singles like I.O.I.O, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart and Don't Forget To Remember were hits, but it wasn't until the mid-70s, with Robin back in the fold, that they came back with a vengeance.

They had moved to the US in 1973 and dabbled with American R&B sounds, but it was the dance floor-filling beats of disco that saved them, and made them as big as The Beatles had been in the 1960s.

Bizarrely, for a group so linked to gentle, semi-acoustic songs, they became the figureheads for the disco movement.

Their soundtrack for the John Travolta vehicle Saturday Night Fever became one of the biggest albums of the decade.
Steps were just one of the groups to cover their songs

These songs reinvented the group at a stroke - their vocals were even higher, injecting a camp feel good factor into tracks like More Than A Woman, Stayin' Alive and Jive Talkin'.

In 1979 the album Spirits Having Flown - which included the classic Tragedy - sold 30 million copies across the world.

But disco had to die too - and The Bee Gees, as its figureheads, found their career on the wane as fashion turned to post-punk and new wave.
Bee Gees Awards
Inducted into Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame (1997)
Lifetime achievement award, American Music Awards (1996)
Life achievement award, Brit Awards (1996)
Seven Grammy awards and 16 nominations
CBEs in the 2002 New Year Honours list

It was to be nearly 10 years before they achieved stardom again.

They returned to the charts with the track You Win Again, a single from the album E.S.P. in 1987.

While they would never again match their Seventies success, but would find new fans - and a great deal of money - as boybands and new pop groups fell over themselves to cover Bee Gees tunes.

It seemed, in the mid to late 1990s, that every pop group on the planet had to cover a Bee Gees song in order to succeed.

Take That bowed out with a cover of How Deep Is Your Love, Boyzone covered Words, Steps redid Tragedy for the under-10s and recent PopStars - The Rivals boy group One True Voice covered Sacred Trust.

Even Robbie Williams got into the act with a version of I Started A Joke.

Let's not forget too, that the Brothers Gibb had penned Guilty for Barbra Streisand, Chain Reaction for Diana Ross and Islands In The Stream, for Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers.

Their acceptance as leading figures in rock aristocracy came in the late 1990s. They won an American Lifetime Achievement Award, a Brit Award and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

They were also made CBEs in the 2002 New Years Honours list, cementing their dignified artist reputation.

In a career spanning five decades, their effect on pop has still not diminished.

Maurice Gibb

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12 Jan 03 | Entertainment
21 Mar 01 | Entertainment
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