Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Bee Gees‘ career as fully professional, all-singing, all-playing musicians, songwriters and performers.
This Jan. 12 marked eight years since self-styled “man in the middle” Maurice Gibb’s tragic passing. And in 2011, remaining Gibbs Barry and Robin are actually threatening to continue recording, and perhaps even tour the globe, beneath the hitherto-mighty Bee Gees moniker.
I’m far happier to report that 2011 also sees the appearance of a grand new DVD retrospective on Barry, Robin, Maurice and even Andy Gibb titled In Our Own Time. And from its very opening ultra-decibel, fire ‘n’ flashpot-festooned montage of “You Should Be Dancing” footage spanning 1976 clear through 1996 — which then cleverly cuts far back to a ’56-vintage Elvis Presley and his similarly dance-crazed “Blue Suede Shoes” — it’s clear this is going to be one of those far-too-rare roc docs that actually has a wise and sharpened sense of socio-musical perspective. I mean, who was Tony Manero after all than simply Vince Everett in polyester white as opposed to jailhouse black?
Our ride duly launches out of post-war Manchester, England, as Barry, Robin and Maurice describe years spent as pre-teen Everly Brothers who eventually emigrate all the way to Australia, where they form a singing act to perform for spare change at a local race car track. But such is this young trio’s charm and already obvious talent that they soon blossom into bona fide Down Under Beatles.
Returning to their homeland, a recording contract and string of (self-written and purposefully “melodramatic,” it is revealed) classics appear in typically 1960s warp-speed. Colorful “New York Mining Disaster,” “I Can’t See Nobody,” “To Love Somebody,” “Massachusetts,” “Idea” and “Words” clips follow, and even a glancing view toward each should erase all doubts that The Bee Gees were one of that genius-packed decade’s surely most accomplished by far.
Caution: What shoots way, way up must of course fall down. So as the ’60s become the ’70s, our heroes found themselves struggling beneath the weight of red velvet-ensconced rock operas, mutinous solo projects, meddling better halves and even their very own ill-fated television spectacular called Cucumber Castle. Once the audio-visual wreckage cleared however, the brothers found themselves chastened enough to not only fully reform but come up with two unashamedly allegorical gems, “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” which appeared to all concerned to be their career swansongs.
But! We’re less than halfway through our show! And so what exactly did spare The Bee Gees at this critical point from a fate worse than Oldie Goldies?
Two words: Arif Mardin.
Luring them to Miami’s Criteria Recording Studios, then cleverly steering the brothers toward their previously unexplored R&B leanings, the result was a slow but steady climb both back onto their feet and then extremely high back up the international sales charts. No further explanation is really needed by me here: At least 100 million of you out there bought the ensuing records.
The backlash, of course, was instant and fierce. “Bee Gee-Free Weekends” on radio stations the world over. The burning of Saturday Night Fever soundtracks and other Bee Gees-related product during “Disco Demolition Night” at a Chicago baseball stadium.
“The enigma with a stigma,” as Barry still brands The Bee Gees to this very day.
And I’m sure he doesn’t just mean the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, either.
Yet for anyone who tuned away from the tale right about here, In Our Own Time continues on through subsequent years of Gibbs stubbornly continuing to craft monster hits — only for other singers (Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Diana Ross, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, for example). Unfortunately, this otherwise platinum period also saw the loss of a severely over-self-medicated Andy Gibb, and the frightful near-exit of a similarly lost “Brother Mo” to boot. Most thankfully indeed, though, Maurice eventually bounced completely back to help create what, tragically, would be his final Bee Gees masterpiece, “This Is Where I Came In,” before death on Jan. 12, 2003.
Well, the story perhaps does not end there. One hour and 51 minutes into In Our Own Time finds a stoic Barry insisting, and I quote, “The legacy of the Bee Gees must go on, one way or the other.” Cut to contemporary footage of he and faithful brother Robin, recently reunited before twin microphones in some faux-recording studio setting, crooning “To Love Somebody” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
Fade to black. One can only hope.
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.