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The crystalline vibrato of Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Robin Gibb was a key factor in four decades of hit songs by the Bee Gees, alongside brothers Barry and Maurice. In addition to co-writing nearly all of the band's greatest songs - from 1960s-era hits like "To Love Somebody" and "Massachusetts," to their record-breaking disco and funk songs of the 1970s for the Saturday Night Fever (1977) soundtrack - Robin's high, precise harmonies with his brothers helped sell some 220 million records, a figure comparable only to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Michael Jackson. Save for a brief period in 1969, Gibb was present for the momentous highs, but also the intense lows of the Bee Gees' career, which culminated in 1988 with the death of baby brother Andy Gibb, and then in 2003 with the death of his twin, Maurice Gibb. However, to the delight of fans worldwide, Robin and Barry announced in 2009 that they would resume recording new songs. But the promise of new music never materialized due to mounting health issues for the singer. Still, the contributions of Robin Gibb and his brothers to pop music were almost without peer and were some of the most successful ever recorded.Robin Hugh Gibb and his...
The crystalline vibrato of Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Robin Gibb was a key factor in four decades of hit songs by the Bee Gees, alongside brothers Barry and Maurice. In addition to co-writing nearly all of the band's greatest songs - from 1960s-era hits like "To Love Somebody" and "Massachusetts," to their record-breaking disco and funk songs of the 1970s for the Saturday Night Fever (1977) soundtrack - Robin's high, precise harmonies with his brothers helped sell some 220 million records, a figure comparable only to Elvis Presley, the Beatles and Michael Jackson. Save for a brief period in 1969, Gibb was present for the momentous highs, but also the intense lows of the Bee Gees' career, which culminated in 1988 with the death of baby brother Andy Gibb, and then in 2003 with the death of his twin, Maurice Gibb. However, to the delight of fans worldwide, Robin and Barry announced in 2009 that they would resume recording new songs. But the promise of new music never materialized due to mounting health issues for the singer. Still, the contributions of Robin Gibb and his brothers to pop music were almost without peer and were some of the most successful ever recorded.
Robin Hugh Gibb and his fraternal twin brother, Maurice Gibb, were born Dec. 22, 1949 on the Isle of Man. They were two of five siblings by their parents, Hugh and Barbara Gibb, which included older brother Barry, sister Lesley, and later, a younger brother, Andrew. In 1953, the family moved to their father's hometown of Manchester, England, where the brothers had their first exposure to rock-n-roll music from their sister, and discovered that they could sing in harmony. According to pop culture legend, Barry, Robin and Maurice made their public debut at a local theater, where children could lip-sync to records between features. The brothers brought a cumbersome 78-rpm record for their performance, but it broke en route to the theater, forcing them to sing live. Reportedly, the response was so positive that they decided to form a band.
Robin Gibb and his brothers began performing in earnest after the family moved to Queensland, Australia in 1958. Billed as the Bee Gees, which stood for the Brothers Gibb, they were a popular live act and appeared frequently on television, but failed to generate much interest in their recordings. In 1966, they returned to England, where they discovered that their single, "Spicks and Specks," had gone to No. 1 on the Australian charts during their voyage. They attracted the attention of manager Robert Stigwood, who mounted an expensive promotional campaign for the group in 1967 that proclaimed them the year's "Most Significant New Talent." The gambit worked, as evidenced by their first singles, the mournful, psychedelic "New York Mining Disaster 1941" and "To Love Somebody," a soulful ballad originally intended for Otis Redding. Both songs broke the Top 20 singles charts in the U.S. and U.K., establishing the Bee Gees as a pop act to watch.
The band's initial lineup featured Barry on rhythm guitar and Maurice on a wide variety of instruments, with both Barry and Robin sharing lead vocal duties in addition to harmonies and all three brothers frequently sharing songwriting duties. Though Robin's highly emotive voice was front and center on many of the band's biggest hits of the 1960s, including "Massachusetts," "I've Gotta Get a Message To You" and "I Started a Joke," he began to feel that Stigwood was favoring Barry as the group's leader and sole lead vocalist. When Robin's single, "Lamplight," was relegated to the B-side of the band's first single from their ambitious Odessa (1969) album in favor of Barry's "First Of May," he quit the band to launch his solo career with the single "Saved By the Bell." The song, which rose to No. 2 on the U.K. singles charts, offered ample proof that Robin had the lyrical and vocal skills to sustain a career away from his brothers. However, his debut solo album, Robin's Reign (1969), failed to match the success of his single, and after completing the majority of a second LP, he reunited with his brothers, who had also gone their separate ways in search of solo fame.
For a brief period, the reformed Bee Gees appeared to be an even more accomplished act than their previous incarnation. Their first post-breakup single, 1970's "Lonely Days," showed a deeper mastery of pop music with its Abbey Road- esque tempo changes, and reached No. 3 in the United States. Its follow-up, the gorgeous ballad "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," marked their first visit to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and later provided Al Green with a major hit in 1972. But within a few years, the Bee Gees' brand of sweeping, romantic pop had lost its luster with audiences. A pair of failed albums left the brothers feeling creatively spent and unsure of their direction. At the suggestion of their label chief, the legendary Ahmet Ertegun, the Bee Gees began working with producer Arif Mardin, who recognized their knack for blue-eyed soul and began pushing them towards more R&B-inclined material. In 1975, they unveiled a new sound, dominated by funk-driven beats and Barry and Robin's soaring falsettos that hewed closely to the growing sound of disco. The first single from the Mardin sessions, "Jive Talkin'," provided them with their second No. 1 single in the States, and was quickly followed by Top 10 hits like "Nights on Broadway" and another No.1 with "You Should Be Dancing." But the success of these disco-flavored tracks paled in comparison to their next effort: the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
Brought on during post-production on the John Badham film, the Bee Gees penned six original songs for the album, and recorded four themselves - "Stayin' Alive," "Night Fever," "How Deep Is Your Love" and "More Than a Woman," which was also recorded by Tavares for the LP. All but "Woman" reached the top of the singles charts, while the Tavares version broke the Top 10. An additional Bee Gees-penned song from the record, "If I Can't Have You" by Yvonne Elliman, also reached No. 1 on the pop singles chart. During an eight month period in 1977 and 1978, the Bee Gees had six No. 1 songs on the U.S. charts, including "I Just Want To Be Your Everything" sung by their younger brother, Andy, who had launched his own brief but successful music career. The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack would earn five Grammys, including Album of the Year in 1979, and go on to become the ninth largest-selling album worldwide in recording history. The explosive success of the film and LP made the Bee Gees in-demand writers for other acts hoping to transform their own careers in a similar fashion. Barry and Robin wrote "Emotion" for Australian singer and old friend Samantha Sang, who turned it into a Top 10 hit, while 1960s vocal group veteran Frankie Valli shot to No. 1 with the Gibbs' title track for the movie version of the musical "Grease" (1978). When the Bee Gees returned to recording new material for themselves, the result was another trifecta of No. 1 hits, including "Too Much Heaven," and a sold-out North American tour. But as the 1970s drew to a close, the Bee Gees' grip on the pop market proved tenuous.
Disco was slowly losing its impact with listeners, who often displayed a visceral dislike for the music through disc jockey-sponsored rallies and wholesale destruction of disco records. Since the Bee Gees were unquestionably the leading figures in disco at the time, their music received the brunt of the public's ire. The highly publicized failure of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978), a puerile fantasy starring the brothers and Peter Frampton in a musical built around the songs of the Beatles, also took the group down a peg. Solo albums by Robin, including How Old Are You? (1983) and Secret Agent (1984) saw only modest chart success, prompting the brothers to pull in the reins on their singing careers and focus primarily on songwriting. With Barry and, on occasion, Maurice, Robin was credited as co-writer on such hits as "A Woman in Love" (1980) by Barbra Streisand, and the entirety of Kenny Rogers' The Eyes That See in the Dark LP, which featured "Islands in the Stream," a duet with Dolly Parton that reached No. 1. However, they remained persona non grata as artists in the United States, as evidenced by the failure of the 1987 record, E.S.P., which was a stellar success in virtually every other country on the strength of the single "You Win Again." The Gibb brothers suffered an even deeper loss the following year with the death of their brother Andy, whose rampant drug and alcohol use in the 1980s left him susceptible to a fatal inflammation of the heart at age 30. Andy had been staying at Robin's English estate at the time he was rushed to the hospital.
In 1989, the Bee Gees roared back to the charts with "One," the ebullient lead single from their album of the same name. The song brought the band back to the Top 10 for the first time in over a decade, and sparked a revival that lasted for the better part of the next decade. The following year, they received a four-CD retrospective with the box set Tales from the Brothers Gibb: A History in Song, which was soon followed by a string of hit albums, culminating in Still Waters, their first Top 20 album since the 1970s. The decade was a turbulent one for the band - Maurice finally wrested control over the alcoholism that had plagued him for years, while Barry struggled with physical problems, including severe arthritis - but also rich with tributes, including induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. The following year, their music from "Saturday Night Fever" became part of a popular stage musical based on the film. In 2001, all three brothers were made Commanders of the British Empire.
The third-act triumph proved to be short-lived. The band's 2001 album, This Is Where I Came In, which reached the Top 20 in the United States, was also their last as a trio. In 2003, Maurice "Mo" Gibb died of a heart attack while undergoing emergency surgery for a strangulated intestine. His grief-stricken brothers announced that they would effectively retire the Bee Gees name as a tribute to Maurice, and performed together only sporadically the next decade. Both Robin and Barry were present to accept the Grammy Legend Award in 2003, the same year that Robin's final solo album to date, Magnet, was released. He later supported the record with a tour through Europe and Asia, and released a Christmas album, Robin Gibb - My Favorite Carols, in 2006.
After returning to the top of the U.K. charts in 2009 with a cover of "Islands in the Stream" with Tom Jones for the Comic Relief charity, Robin announced in 2009 that he and Barry were in talks to produce new material. They began appearing together on various high-profile television shows on both sides of the Atlantic, including a 2010 appearance on "American Idol" (Fox, 2002-16). That same year, Gibb confirmed that Steven Spielberg was attached to a movie based on the life story of the Bee Gees, but the excitement was dampened in October 2011 by his emergency admission into a U.K. hospital for abdominal pain and inflammation of the colon, the same condition which had led to the death of his twin brother. Though he insisted at the time that he felt great, it was revealed in November that Gibb had been battling liver cancer, which was diagnosed several months earlier. With rumors swirling regarding his allegedly declining health, Gibb dispelled such talk in a January 2012 interview with The Mail on Sunday, where he confirmed his cancer fight but claimed he was in the clear. In March, Gibb announced that his cancer was in remission, only to contract pneumonia in April following intestinal surgery. This time, Gibb fell into a coma and was indeed fighting for his life, as his family - including brother Barry and 91-year-old mother Barbara - flew to London to join his family at his bedside. To the amazement of his doctors, Gibb came out of his coma a week after slipping into it, but his recovery was short-lived. Robin Gibb passed away at age 62 on May 20, 2012, leaving brother Barry the sole surviving son of the Gibb family.
By Paul Gaita
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