Bee Gees are a musical group that was originally made up of three brothers: Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb. The trio were successful for most of their forty plus years of recording music, but they had two distinct periods of exceptional success: as a harmonic "soft rock" act in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and as a foremost act of the disco music era in the late 1970s. The group sang three-part tight harmonies that were instantly recognisable; Robin's clear vibrato lead was a hallmark of their earlier hits, while Barry's R&B falsetto became their signature sound during the late 1970s and 1980s. The brothers co-wrote all of their own hits, as well as writing and producing several major hits for other artists. They have had at least one top-ten U.S. hit in each of five decades: "I've Gotta Get a Message to You", "I Started a Joke" (1960s); "Nights on Broadway", "How Deep Is Your Love", "Stayin' Alive" (1970s); "One" (1980s); "Alone" (1990s); and "This Is Where I Came In" (2000s).
Born in the Isle of Man to English parents, the Gibb brothers lived their first few years in Chorlton, Manchester, England, then moved in the late 1950s to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, where they eventually began their musical careers. After achieving their first chart success in Australia with "Spicks and Specks" (their 12th single), they returned to the United Kingdom in January 1967 where producer Robert Stigwood promoted them to a worldwide audience. It has been estimated that the Bee Gees' record sales total more than 200 million, making them one of the best-selling music artists of all time. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997; the presenter of the award to "Britain's first family of harmony" was Brian Wilson, historical leader of the Beach Boys, America's pre-eminent rock group, also a "family act" featuring three brothers  whose "vocal harmonies are among the most unmistakable and enduring of the rock and roll era". The Bee Gees Hall of Fame citation says "Only Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks and Paul McCartney have outsold the Bee Gees".
Following Maurice's sudden death on 12 January 2003, Barry and Robin Gibb ended the group after forty-five years of activity. On 7 September 2009, however, Robin announced that he and Barry had agreed that the Bee Gees would reform and perform again.
Barry Gibb (1946) and twin brothers Robin and Maurice Gibb (1949) were born on the Isle of Man, but the family returned to father Hugh Gibb's home town of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, England, in the early 1950s where the boys began to sing in harmony. On one occasion, the boys were going to lip sync to a record in the local Gaumont cinema (as other children had done on previous weeks). As the boys were running to get to the theatre, Maurice dropped the record, and since the conventional 78-RPM record format of the time was heavy and brittle, it broke. Now having no record, the brothers had to sing live and received such a positive response from the audience that they decided to pursue a singing career.
In 1958, the Gibb family, including infant brother Andy, emigrated to Redcliffe in Queensland, Australia. The still very young brothers began performing where they could to raise pocket money. First called the Rattlesnakes, later Wee Johnny Hayes & the Bluecats, they were introduced to radio DJ Bill Gates by racetrack promoter Bill Goode (who saw them perform at Brisbane's Speedway Circuit). Gates renamed them the "Bee Gees" after his and Goode's initials – thus the name was not specifically a reference to "Brothers Gibb", despite popular belief.
By 1960, the Bee Gees were featured on television shows, and in the next few years began working regularly at resorts on the Queensland coast. Barry drew the attention of Australian star Col Joye for his songwriting, and Joye helped the boys get a record deal with Festival Records in 1963 under the name "Bee Gees." The three released two or three singles a year, while Barry supplied additional songs to other Australian artists.
A minor hit in 1965, "Wine and Women", led to the group's first LP The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs. By late 1966 the three brothers decided to return to England. While at sea in January 1967, they heard that "Spicks and Specks", a #1 hit in October 1966 had been awarded Best Single of the Year by Go-Set, Australia's most popular and influential music newspaper.
Before their departure from Australia to England, Hugh Gibb sent demos to Brian Epstein who managed The Beatles and was director of NEMS, a British music store and promoter. Brian Epstein had passed the demo tapes to Robert Stigwood, who had recently joined NEMS. After an audition with Stigwood in February 1967, the Bee Gees were signed to a five-year contract whereby Polydor Records would be the Bee Gees' record label in the United Kingdom, and ATCO Records would be the United States distributor. Work quickly began on the group's first international album, and Robert Stigwood launched a promotional campaign to coincide with its release.
Stigwood proclaimed that the Bee Gees were "The Most Significant New Talent Of 1967" and thus began the immediate comparison to The Beatles. Their second British single (their first UK 45 rpm issued was "Spicks and Specks"), "New York Mining Disaster 1941", was issued to radio stations with a blank white label listing only the song title. Some DJs immediately assumed this was a new Beatles' single and started playing the song in heavy rotation. This helped the song climb into the Top 20 in both the United Kingdom and the United States. No such chicanery was needed to boost the Bee Gees' second single, "To Love Somebody", into the US Top 20. Originally written for Otis Redding, "To Love Somebody" was a soulful ballad sung by Barry, which has since become a pop standard covered by hundreds of artists including Gram Parsons, Rod Stewart, Janis Joplin, The Animals, Nina Simone, and Michael Bolton. Another single, "Holiday" was released in the United States, peaking at #16. The parent album, the erroneously titled Bee Gees 1st, peaked at #7 in the United States and #8 in the United Kingdom.
Following the success of Bee Gees 1st, the band (which now consisted of Barry on rhythm guitar, Maurice on bass, Vince Melouney on lead guitar and Colin Petersen on drums), began work on the act's second album. Released in late 1967, Horizontal repeated the success of their first album, featuring the #1 UK single "Massachusetts" (a #11 US hit), and the #7 UK single "World". The sound of the album Horizontal had a more "rock" sound than their previous release, though ballads like "And The Sun Will Shine" and "Really And Sincerely" were also prominent. The Horizontal album reached #12 in the US, and #16 in the UK promoting the record, the Bee Gees made their first appearances in America, playing live concerts and television shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show and Laugh In.
Two more singles followed in early 1968, the ballad "Words" (#15 US, #8 UK) and the double A-sided single "Jumbo" b/w "The Singer Sang His Song". "Jumbo" was the Bee Gees' least successful single to date only reaching #57 in the US, and #25 in the UK. The Bee Gees felt that "The Singer Sang His Song" was the stronger of the two sides, an opinion shared by listeners in the Netherlands, who made it a #3 hit. Further Bee Gees chart singles followed: "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" (#8 US, #1 UK) and "I Started A Joke" (#6 US), both culled from the band's third album Idea. Idea was another Top 20 album in the US (#17) and the UK (#4). Following the tour and TV special to promote the album, Vince Melouney left the group, feeling that he wanted to play more of a blues style music than the Gibbs were writing. Melouney did achieve one feat while with the Bee Gees—his composition "Such A Shame" (from Idea) is the only song on any Bee Gees album not written by a Gibb brother.
By 1969, the cracks began to show within the group. Robin began to feel that Stigwood had been favouring Barry as the frontman. Their next album, which was to have been a concept album called Masterpeace, evolved into the double-album Odessa. Most rock critics felt this was the best Bee Gees album of the 60s, with its progressive rock feel on the title track, the country-flavoured "Marley Purt Drive" and "Give Your Best", and signature ballads such as "Melody Fair" and "First Of May"; the last of which became the only single from the album, and was a minor hit. Feeling that the flipside, "Lamplight" should have been the A-side, Robin quit the group in mid-1969 and launched a solo career. Robin Gibb saw brief success in Europe with the #2 hit "Saved By The Bell" and the album Robin's Reign. Barry and Maurice continued as the Bee Gees, even recruiting their sister Lesley to appear with them on stage.
The first of many Bee Gees compilations, Best of Bee Gees was released, featuring the non-LP single "Words" plus the Australian hit "Spicks and Specks" The CD release replaces "Spicks and Specks" with another non-LP single "Tomorrow Tomorrow", because Polydor could no longer secure the rights to the Australian track. "Tomorrow Tomorrow" was a moderate hit in the UK reaching #23, but stalled at #54 in the US. The compilation reached the Top Ten in both the US and the UK.
While Robin was off on his own, Barry, Maurice, and Colin continued on as the Bee Gees, recording their next album, Cucumber Castle. There was also a TV special filmed to accompany the album, which aired on the BBC in 1971. Colin Petersen played drums on the tracks recorded for the album, but was fired from the group after filming began and his parts were edited out of the final cut of the film. The leadoff single, "Don't Forget to Remember" was a big hit in the UK reaching #2, but a disappointment in the US, only reaching #73. The next 2 singles, "I.O.I.O." and "If I Only Had My Mind on Something Else" barely scraped the charts, and following the release of the album, Barry and Maurice parted ways. It seemed that the Bee Gees were finished. Barry recorded a solo album which never saw official release, though "I'll Kiss Your Memory" was released as a single, without much interest. Meanwhile, Maurice released the single "Railroad", and starred in the West End musical Sing A Rude Song.
The three brothers reunited in the later part of 1970, penning a series of songs about heartache and loneliness. Although they had lost traction on the British charts, the Bee Gees hit #3 in America with "Lonely Days" (from the reunion LP 2 Years On) and had their first US #1 with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" (from Trafalgar). The trio's talents were included in the soundtrack for the 1971 film Melody as they performed several songs for the title. In 1972, they hit #16 in America with the single "My World" and "Run To Me" from the LP To Whom It May Concern; the latter also returned them to the British top ten for the first time in three years.
By 1973, however, the Bee Gees were in a rut. The album, Life in a Tin Can, released on RSO Records and its lead-off single, "Saw a New Morning," sold poorly with the single peaking at #94. This was followed by an unreleased album (known as A Kick in the Head Is Worth Eight in the Pants). A second compilation album, Best of Bee Gees, Volume 2 was released in 1973, though it did not repeat the success of Volume 1.
On the advice of Ahmet Ertegün, head of their US label Atlantic Records, Stigwood arranged for the group to record with famed soul music producer Arif Mardin. The resulting LP, Mr. Natural, included fewer ballads and foreshadowed the R&B direction of the rest of their career. But when it too failed to attract much interest, Mardin encouraged them to work with the soul music style.
The brothers attempted to assemble a live stage band that could replicate their studio sound. Lead guitarist Alan Kendall had come on board in 1971, but did not have much to do until Mr. Natural. For that album, they added drummer Dennis Bryon, and they later added ex-Strawbs keyboard player Blue Weaver, completing the late 1970s "Bee Gees band". Maurice, who had previously performed on piano, guitar, organ, mellotron, and bass guitar, as well as exotica like mandolin and Moog, now confined himself to bass onstage.
At Eric Clapton's suggestion, the brothers relocated to Miami, Florida, early in 1975 to record. After starting off with ballads, they eventually heeded the urging of Mardin and Stigwood and crafted more rhythmic disco songs, including their second US #1, "Jive Talkin'", along with US #7 "Nights on Broadway." The latter featured Barry Gibb's first attempts at singing falsetto based on Arif Mardin's suggestion, in the backing vocals toward the end. Robin also began singing some passages in a falsetto pitch. The band liked the resulting new sound, and this time the public agreed, sending the LP Main Course up the charts. This was their second album to have two US top-10 singles since 1968's Idea. Main Course also became their first charting R&B album. Mardin was unable to work with the group afterwards, but the Bee Gees enlisted Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson who had worked with Mardin during the Main Course sessions. This production team would carry the Bee Gees through the rest of the 1970s.
The next album, Children of the World, was drenched in Barry's newfound falsetto and Weaver's synthesizer disco licks. Led off by the single "You Should Be Dancing," it pushed the Bee Gees to a level of stardom they had not previously achieved in the US, though their new R&B/disco sound was not as popular with some die hard fans from the 1960s. The Bee Gees' band was now closer to a rock act, with rhythm guitar and real drums behind the falsetto.