Bee Gees – Part 4: Downfall, Comeback and Last Man Standing

“We didn’t categorize our songs as disco, but then we weren’t thinking that way at all. We were just thinking about writing songs based on the discovery of this falsetto voice and how well that seemed to work.” (Barry Gibb, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart)

By the end of the ’70s, the Bee Gees had become ubiquitous. Saturday Night Fever won Album of the Year at the 1979 Grammy Awards, one of four music awards they scored related to the film. At one point, the Bee Gees and their younger brother Andy Gibb held five of the top 10 spots on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Perhaps not surprisingly, what goes up, must come down. Or crashing down in this case.

The Bee Gees Are Disco Icons, but Robin Gibb Was Pure Pop - The Atlantic
Bee Gees in 1979 (from left): Robin Gibb, Barry Gibb and Maurice Gibb

Apart from ubiquity, whether they liked it or not, it was the Bee Gees’ close association with disco that triggered their precipitous downfall when disco rapidly declined in popularity by the end of the ’70s and became the subject of outright backlash. More and more radio stations refused to play disco and Bee Gees music. And it got even worse. In the Broken Heart documentary, Maurice Gibb noted, “We had FBI and Secret Service around the airplane every time we landed in a certain place because of the bomb threats. It was scary stuff.”

Essentially, the situation forced the Bee Gees to stop performing as a group. While for their 1981 album Living Eyes, they stylistically turned away from their ’70s albums that had brought them past fame, it only sold 750,000 copies worldwide – not too shabby on the surface but measly compared to 16 million predecessor Spirits Having Flown had generated. Living Eyes stalled at no. 41 in the U.S. and at no. 73 in the UK. Here’s the title track, a co-write by the three brothers.

For the next six years, the Bee Gees largely focused on writing songs for other artists. Barry Gibb worked with Barbara Streisand on her hugely successful 1980 studio album Guilty, which he co-produced and for which he wrote or co-wrote all songs. This included the ballad Woman in Love, which like the album topped the charts in the U.S., UK and many other countries. The title track, written by the three Gibb brothers, also became a hit. Interestingly, the album cover showed a picture of Streisand and Barry Gibb who also sang backing vocals on Guilty.

Additional examples of Bee Gees songs performed by other artists in the 80s include Heartbreaker (Dionne Warwick), Islands in the Stream (Dolly Parton & Kenny Rodgers) and the Diana Ross album Eaten Alive. The Gibb brothers also did some solo work during that period. Robin Gibb enjoyed some success with his solo music in Germany.

In 1987, the Bee Gees decided to record a new album, E.S.P., six years after their last unsuccessful studio release. For the first time in 12 years, they also worked again with Arif Mardin, who had produced their mid-’70s album Main Course, the career-defining record that previously revived the group, introducing their R&B-driven dance pop and Barry’s falsetto.

While I’m not sure Mardin had a comparable influence on E.S.P., the album launched another comeback for the Bee Gees. It performed particularly well in Europe, reaching no. 1 in Germany and Switzerland, no. 2 in Austria and no. 5 in the UK. In the U.S., it barely cracked the top 100, stalling at no. 96 on the Billboard 200. Here’s the lead single You Win Again, co-written by all three Gibb brothers like all other tracks on the album.

Then fate hit again. Andy Gibb, who like his older brothers was a music artist and had enjoyed some success in the late ’70s, passed away on March 10, 1988 from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by years of cocaine abuse that had fatally weakened his heart. He was only 30 years old. In addition to drug addiction, Andy had struggled with depression.

Andy’s death delayed the Bee Gees’ next album One. After taking an eight-month break, Barry, Maurice and Robin returned to the studio to finish the album. It appeared in April 1989 and was dedicated to Andy. Here’s the moving tribute Wish You Were Here.

The Bee Gees went on to release four additional studio albums between March 1991 and April 2001. Still Waters, which appeared in March 1997, marked their last triumph. In spite of lukewarm reviews, it became their best-selling album in almost 20 years. Here’s opener Alone, co-written by Barry, Maurice and Robin, which also became the lead single.

The remaining story of the Bee Gees is sad. On January 12, 2003, Maurice Gibb unexpectedly died at the age of 53 due to complications from a twisted intestine, which caused cardiac arrest. While Barry and Robin occasionally performed together thereafter, Maurice’s death ended the Bee Gees. In November 2011, it was announced Robin had been diagnosed with liver cancer. Six months later on May 20, 2012, he passed away. Robin was only 62 years old. Barry Gibb had lost all of his brothers.

In February 2013, Barry kicked off his first solo tour in Australia “in honour of his brothers and a lifetime of music,” as he told British newspaper Express in April 2013. Performing without any of his brothers was extremely challenging, as he noted in the aforementioned article. In the end, things worked out well. “The Australian leg of this tour was a great test of my self-doubt because even though I’ve done solo performances before it wasn’t going to be the same without Robin and Mo,” Barry said. “The opening night in Sydney was incredible. That’s where we grew up so to go back and see people that we knew was therapeutic.”

HOROSCOPE: Sept. 1, 2020
Barry Gibb, September 2020

Gibb has continued to tour over the years. In October 2016, he released his second solo album In the Now, together with his sons Stephen Gibb and Ashley Gibb. Last month, he announced a new solo album Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers Songbook, Vol 1, which is scheduled to appear on January 8, 2021, as reported by JamBase. It includes new recordings of Bee Gees songs like I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You, Lonely Days and Jive Talkin’, featuring many guests, such as Jason Isbell, Alison Krauss and Cheryl Crow.

“I think everything we set out to do, we did against all odds. I can’t honestly come to terms with the fact they’re not here anymore. Never been able to do that. I’m always reliving it. It’s always, ‘what would Robin think’, ‘what would Maurice think’ – and Andy. It never goes away. And, what I wanted to say earlier is that I’ve rather have them all back here and no hits at all.” (Barry Gibb, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart)

Sources: Wikipedia; The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heartdocumentary directed by Frank Marshall; Express; JamBase; YouTube

The Pretenders Are Back And Sound Mighty

“Hate for Sale” will go in music history as one of the English-American rock band’s best albums ever

Back in May, I included The Pretenders in a Best of What’s New installment with You Can’t Hurt a Fool, a great tune and the third single from their then-upcoming new album Hate for Sale. Yesterday, I randomly remembered that post and it occurred to me I had forgotten about the album that came out two weeks ago on July 17. I’m not going to pretend (no pun intended here) I know each and every record of the band in and out, but based on what I’ve heard, Hate for Sale must be one of the best albums they’ve ever released.

Not counting Alone from October 2016, a Chrissie Hynde solo album she recorded with a different backing band and released under the Pretenders name, Hate for Sale is the band’s first new album in nearly 12 years since Break Up the Concrete from October 2008. When I say the band, I’m referring to Hynde, James Walbourne (guitar, backing vocals) and Nick Wilkinson (bass). Drummer and original co-founder Martin Chambers, who is back in the fold, had not been on a Pretenders record since Loose Screw released in November 2002.

The Pretenders (from left): Nick Wilkinson, Chrissie Hynde, Martin Chambers and James Walbourne. Not pictured: Carwyn Ellis

Welsh singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Carwyn Ellis is also listed as a member on the band’s website but neither is on the album cover nor seems to appear in official press photos. Perhaps that’s because Ellis is also the founder and front man of British alternative band Colorama.

All songs on Hate for Sale were co-written by Hynde and Walbourne. Not only is that different from Break Up the Concrete, which saw Hynde as the sole writer, but I think it also benefits the album. In addition to strong tunes, what stands out to me on Hate for Sale are a great, oftentimes raw rock sound and Hynde’s singing, which sounds as great as ever. But don’t take it from me. Let’s get to some music!

Here’s the official video of the title track. I like the false start. It’s also really a kickass tune!

One of Hate of Sale’s highlights is The Buzz. That track was also one of the three singles that came out leading up to the album’s release. Quite a catchy tune!

Lightning Man has a cool ska-ish groove, providing a nice contrast to the other tunes.

Next up: Turf Accountant Daddy, another great tune.

The songs I’ve highlighted thus far are the album’s first four tracks. I’m only skipping the fifth song You Can’t Hurt a Fool, since I previously wrote about it. I think this goes to show what a compelling album Love for Sale is! Let’s do one more: Maybe Love Is in NYC.

Hate for Sale is the 11th studio album by The Pretenders. It was produced by Stephen Street, who had worked with the band on ¡Viva El Amor!, their seventh studio album from May 1999, which he co-produced with Stephen Hague. Street is also known for his work with The Smiths, The Cranberries and English alternative rock band Blur. According to Wikipedia, Hate for Sale has been well received. Frankly, if you like the early music by The Pretenders, it’s hard for me to see how you couldn’t dig Love for Sale. My only regret is that with 30 minutes, the album definitely is on the short side!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Pretenders website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

My latest exploration of newly released music includes songs from rock veterans Pretenders and three other artists most readers likely don’t know. Highlighting work from the latter really is what mostly inspired me to introduce this recurring feature six weeks ago, since it’s fair to say the blog mostly focuses on prominent acts. Let’s get to it!

Pretenders/You Can’t Hurt a Fool

Initially, the 11th studio album by the Pretenders was scheduled to be released yesterday, May 1. Because of COVID-19, Hate for Sale (gee, what a cheerful title!) is now slated for July 17. Interestingly, if I see this correctly, their 5-month North American tour with Journey has not been postponed yet and is still scheduled to kick off in Ridgefield, Wash. on May 15. Remember, that’s the one of the first states that became a hotspot for the coronavirus when it wrecked havoc at the local nursing home? Hate for Sale is the Pretenders’ first new album as a band since Break Up the Concrete from October 2008. In October 2016, Chrissie Hynde released the aptly titled Alone under the Pretenders name, but it only featured her with different backing musicians. In addition to Hynde (guitar, vocals), the Pretenders’ current line-up includes co-founding member Martin Chambers (drums), as well as Carwyn Ellis (keyboards), James Walbourne (guitar) and Nick Wilkinson (bass), who all joined sometime after 2000. Released on April 14, You Can’t Hurt a Fool is the third and most recent single from the album. Like all other tunes on Hate for Sale, the ballad was co-written by Hynde and Walbourne.

Robert Francis/Amaretto

Robert Francis is a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles in the indie folk and Americana arena. He released his debut album One by One at age 19 in August 2007. Junebug, the lead single for his sophomore Before Nightfall from October 2009, became successful in Europe, topping the French charts and also charting in various other European countries. Amaretto, Francis’ eighth album, came out yesterday. It features notable guests: Ry Cooder, Marty Stuart and Terry Evans who since passed away. This means that at least some of songs must have been recorded as ealy as 2017, since Evans died in January 2018. Here’s the title track. If you dig Americana, I’d encourage you to check out this tune and the entire album.

Sawyer Fredericks/Flowers For You

In February 2015, Sawyer Fredericks, a soft-spoken 16-year-old teenager from Newtown, Conn., became the youngest winner of The Voice at the time. Meanwhile, that record was broken by a 15-year-old female vocalist in February 2018. Since I dig good vocals, I was watching the TV singing competition frequently back then. About a year or two ago, I stopped since I felt everything had become too predicatble. Unlike American Idol, which sparked the careers of some big-selling artists, such as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert, most winners of The Voice haven’t accomplished real breakthroughs. As such, I’m particularly happy to see a previous winner who went on to become a recording artist. Since The Voice, Fredericks has released an EP and four albums, including his latest Flowers For You, which appeared yesterday. The now 21-year-old singer-songwriter definitely has something. Not only is Fredericks a pretty talented musician, but his voice is quite unique, varying from a deeper raspy sound to a very high range. And the young artist writes pretty good songs. Here’s the bluesy title track from the new album.

Resurrextion/Hold On

Resurrextion are a New Jersey jam rock band I follow. Full disclosure: I’m also friends with these guys, but that’s not the reason why I feature them – in fact, they have no idea (yet) that I do. Resurrextion were initially founded in Jersey City in 2006 and started out as a cover band. After beginning to work on own material, they released their studio debut Comin’ Home in 2013. As the band gained more visibility and opened for national acts like Dickey BettsFoghatPoco and Blues Traveler, music increasingly started to interfere with their day jobs and families, so they decided to take a break. In 2018, they reunited and have since performed at many Jersey venues in Asbury Park and beyond. Resurrextion mostly remain a jam rock cover band but also play their own songs – and evidently work on new material. The current lineup includes Phil Ippolito (lead vocals, keyboards),  Joey Herr (guitar, vocals), Billy Gutch (guitar, vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, vocals). Hold On is a mid-tempo rock tune the band released last month, while laudably practicing social distancing. Each member recorded their part at their respective homes. Thanks to technology, I think everything came nicely together!

Sources: Wikipedia; Resurrextion Facebook page; YouTube