A few hours ago the last surviving Bee Gee, Barry Gibb, walked off the the most hallowed stage in country music, the Grand Ole Opry. He performed three songs alongside country star Ricky Skaggs and received a standing ovation. As far as late career moves go, this is a home-run for Gibb. No other A-list artist like the Bee Gees has been so wrongly pigeon-holed to one genre (disco) in the eyes of lazy journalists, that to remind (or to educate) people of the wider legacy of the brothers Gibb is always welcome.
The late Robin Gibb was often sensitive to the word “disco,” biting back at interviewers that the Bee Gees were always about so much more than that word. And they were. You don’t sell 220 million records and write 21 different US or UK number one hits if you only deal in one genre. Of note though is that even if the word almost became dirty, particularly in the States, is that Barry Gibb recently said disco is only a bad word if you weren’t the group everyone most associates with it. As far as beautifully cool, totally accurate, back-handed self-back-slapping goes (quite a physical maneuver btw), that claim may take the cake.
Perhaps that was a sign of acceptance. Yes indeed, people made fun of disco and once upon a time, for a combination of factors including not just over-saturation but also implicit racism and homophobia people burned so-called “disco” records. But after all these years, who is more revered by both the public and critics: the Bee Gees and Donna Summer, or Styx and the Sex Pistols? Prog-rock and punk might’ve been cool, but in the grander scheme of things, album sales were drastically minuscule in comparison and the songs have not stood the test of time anywhere near as well as the likes of How Deep Is Your Love or I Feel Love.
All that to one side, Barry Gibb is rightfully held aloft as not just arguably, but statistically, the second most successful popular songwriter of all time after Paul McCartney. And being that he has just performed at the Grand Ole Opry, here is my Barry Gibb/Bee Gees country top 10:
Islands In The Stream (1983, a US #1 for Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton – from Eyes That See In The Dark)
Rest Your Love On Me (1978, later a US country #1 for Conway Twitty, written at the height of the disco era)
Don’t Forget To Remember (1969, a UK#2 from the Cucumber Castle album)
Sweetheart (1969, later a UK top 30 hit for Englebert Humperdinck, originally from Cucumber Castle)
Come Home Johnny Bride (1973, a dark horse of a song from an under-appreciated album, Life In A Tin Can)
Marley Purt Drive (1969, my standout song from the stunning and eclectic Odessa – inspired by The Band)
Give Your Best (1969, pure country & western, so much so few casual Bee Gees fans can pick this as the Gibbs – also from Odessa)
Buried Treasure (1983, recorded by Kennry Rogers with backgrounds from the Gatlin Brothers, this is another standout from Eyes That See In The Dark)
South Dakota Morning (1973, a gentle country ballad with a sweet melody, from Life In A Tin Can)
Come On Over (1975, later a US top 30 hit for Olivia Newton-John, originally hidden on the blockbuster Main Course album that introduced Jive Talkin’ and Nights On Broadway to the world)