I have a theory that the tail-end of every decade is extra special when it comes to the music and successes of the Bee Gees. It all began in 1958 when the Gibb family left the grey of England for the warmth of Australia. Then after years of toil as teenage TV stars Downunder they finally hit the big time internationally in 1967. Fast-forward a decade and their late 70s records are still amongst the most iconic and recognisable anywhere on the planet. In the first half of the 80s they wrote smashes for other A-list artists until storming back to the top of the charts themselves in 1987. And exactly 10 years later they were at it again as they toasted their biggest selling album in nearly 20 years.
In the latter part of the initial decade of the 21st century the song catalogue of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb was announced as reportedly being the most played on the radio in the world – more than Lennon / McCartney, more than Bacharach / David, more than John / Taupin, more than Diane Warren, more than anyone. No doubt a hard fact to quantify, but with approximately 1000 published songs and lasting fame in every corner of the globe, entirely conceivable.
Which brings us to 2016. Before the year is out, before we enter the year of the 20th anniversary of Still Waters, the 30th anniversary of You Win Again, the 40th anniversary of Saturday Night Fever and the 50th anniversary of Massachusetts, Barry Gibb will release a new album. The fact the year of release for the hotly anticipated In The Now – Barry’s first full official solo album since 1984’s Now Voyager – ends in a ‘6’ and not a ‘7’ doesn’t bother me. It’s still the back half of the decade and let’s not kid ourselves that this article has until this point been anything other than an exercise in coincidence.
That said, maybe there’s something about the end of a decade that forces artistic types to be extra creative. In a culture that endlessly wants to put people in boxes and that limit multi-decade phenomenons to the 10-year chapter of their greatest prominence (how else can the Bee Gees get so frequently called a “70s group” if they also had number ones in the 60s, 80s and 90s?), maybe it’s smart business to be firmly associated with a decade. As in, do music acts who had even triumphs across the ends as well as the beginnings of decades get discussed as much as more easily pigeon-holed artists?
|Barry Gibb as pictured in publicity shots for In The Now.|
Unsure even as I type whether this is a thesis worthy of any more debate than I’ve already given it / fairly certain I’ve squeezed the yarn of every last drip, let’s move onto something more fun.
As the most prominent member of one of history’s most important groups, the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb’s solo career is the scattered discography of a man so devoted to his brothers. There’s a bootlegged unreleased LP, a series of demo albums for superstars as varied as Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Kenny Rogers and Diana Ross, an ambitious amalgamated album / music video project and a soundtrack for an acclaimed though not especially well-known movie.
Close and repeated listening reveals many a gem that deserved a larger audience. Barry’s first solo album The Kid’s No Good (1970) didn’t go unreleased because it wasn’t good enough, it stayed largely hidden because he reunited instead with his brothers after a 15-month split. The demo albums of the 80s only saw the light of day as digital releases years after the Streisand, Warwick, Rogers and Ross versions had given each of them career-defining (and record-breaking) rewards, while it’s possible the big-budget 1984 release Now Voyager simply came out at the wrong time. Amidst the early to mid-80s backlash against the Bee Gees, the album went under-promoted by the record company and failed to catch on despite the US top 40 hit Shine Shine. But with a music video for each song, also presented in the form of a full movie, you could’t fault the innovation.
A solo followup called Moonlight Madness was ditched in 1986 in favour of a new Bee Gees album (1987’s chart-topping ESP), though several of those songs emerged on the Hawks movie soundtrack in 1988. Starring Timothy Dalton and Anthony Edwards, Hawks is a more melancholy forerunner to the Morgan Freeman / Jack Nicholson film Bucket List and features a handful of extremely high quality Barry Gibb songs.
|The last full-length Barry Gibb solo LP, Now Voyager (1984).|
Which brings us to In The Now. To be released in late 2016 and hopefully still riding high in the charts in 2017 in order to prove my lucky late-decade theory once again, this is Barry’s first album project since the second Streisand collaboration Guilty Pleasures in 2005. With all the songs written by Barry alongside his sons Stephen and Ashley, I feel the time is right. Barry is a veteran artist, his reputation as being amongst the very greatest songwriters and producers of all time is assured, as is his legacy. He will also have an audience who are arguably more interested in hearing a solo album from him than they were when a Bee Gees album was still a possibility.
So as a precursor to In The Now, let’s have a look back on half a dozen of the best ever solo Barry Gibb songs. Hear the huge falsetto chorus of My Eternal Love (1988) as well as that song’s waiting-to-be-sampled opening riff*. There’s the soulful Americana of One Bad Thing and Born (both 1970), the almost mournful beauty of Childhood Days (1988) and the Kenny Rogers demo You And I (1983) that is so gorgeous you can see why some Gibb diehards regard the Eyes That See In The Dark demos as the greatest unofficial Barry Gibb album. And then to round out the six is the more eclectic, staccato funk of I Am Your Driver (1984).
My Eternal Love (1988)
One Bad Thing (1970)
Childhood Days (1988)
You And I (1983)
I Am Your Driver (1984)
*I once told Barry in an interview that I couldn’t believe My Eternal Love wasn’t promoted as a single as it sounded so much like a hit. He responded with a laugh, saying, “I thought so too! I just couldn’t get anyone to agree with me at the time!”