A cracker of a retrospective on the Bee Gees was recently delivered by Bob Stanley (“Islands in the Stream,” Paris Review). It’s actually just one piece from his book, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyoncé, and the verve and charm with which it is written makes yours truly very interested in reading the whole opus.
In the end, following the twists and turns of the long and at times bizarre career of the Gibb brothers, the ultimate way of appreciating them would have to be as songwriters, although their talents as singers and as record-makers in general were also stellar. But from their emergence in the late 1960s through their scorched flight straight to the sun during the disco years (followed by possibly the most dramatic crash and burn of unhipness ever to take place in popular music) and through their behind-the-scenes work for other artists in the 1980s and their later regeneration as performers again, it was always their remarkable gift for composing an irresistible and quite strangely poignant pop song that carried them on, and the songs go on living even when the easily-caricatured stylistic choices of the Gibbs have faded into irrelevance.
Stanley astutely points out the “well of melancholic emotion, even paranoia, in the Bee Gees’ music,” including in their 1978 super-smash, “Night Fever”:
… with its super-mellow groove and air-pumped strings masking the high anxiety of Barry Gibb’s vocal; the second verse is indecipherable, nothing but a piercing wail with the odd phrase—“I can’t hide!”—peeking through the cracks. It is an extraordinary record.
It is indeed, and one of so many, once you start counting. Bob Stanley’s appreciation of the Bee Gees is a very welcome gift that encourages one to go back and listen again to all of those gems.
And I for one will always be willing to testify that you can no more have too much great pop music than you can have too much heaven …