It’s 30 years since one of the biggest teen idols of them all, Andy Gibb, passed away. Given that this month also marks what would’ve been Andy’s 60th birthday, I wanted to post an updated version of an article I wrote in 2013 that I hoped would encourage people to re-examine his life and career. Five years on and the the goal is still very much the same. All of this coincides with the announcement of a new 15-track best-of album to be released by Capitol Records on April 13. Thank you reading and enjoy the music.
Andy Gibb’s was a tragic life, as well as tragically short. I’m sure there are lessons for us all when you look at the picture of a young man, born into a loving family, who had looks, fame and money and still felt so dreadfully inferior. This was a guy whose first three singles all went to US #1, who had the biggest hit of an entire year in the States (1978’s Shadow Dancing), who sold 20 million records in just three years and who was once deemed pretty enough to have a doll made in his image.
But 10 years after his Shadow Dancing peak, Andy was gone. With the hits having dried up in the early 80s, he’d marked his 30th birthday on March 5th 1988 with just his Mum Barbara in a cottage on brother Robin’s estate in Thame, England. Barbara knew her youngest was desperately depressed and all the family knew he was drinking too much so she’d flown from Miami to be with him.
The myth still persists that Andy took his own life, when in actual fact he died on March 10 1988 of an inflamed heart. It was a condition undoubtedly exacerbated by years of drug and alcohol abuse by a man who’d seemingly lost his passion for life. And yet as Barry has pointed out several times, Andy had in secret obtained a pilot’s license in the year before his death. There was talk he’d be joining the Bee Gees for their 1989 album (the followup to their 1987 comeback smash ESP) and he’d also signed a new solo deal with Island Records.
There should’ve been so much to live for, but that last factor, the new solo album deal, may have been part of the downward slide. With serious writer’s block (despite three older brothers as prolific as any songwriting team in history), a desire to shed notions of only having been a teen-idol and possible doubts that he even still wanted a career in music, Andy was in trouble.
Everybody who knew him said he was a kind, gentle soul with a genuine love of people. Not surprisingly, his death broke a lot of hearts, namely his Dad Hugh who himself died in 1992 just one day after Andy’s birthday. The brothers often said Hugh was never the same again after Andy’s death, speaking of a sense of relief that father and youngest son could be reunited again.
So what of Andy’s music? As a heart-throb in the disco-era, people might be surprised to learn that a lot of his own songwriting was in the country / pop vein which is so popular today. Music fans may also be unaware that his three studio albums (produced by Barry with Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson) featured crack musicians like Don Felder and Joe Walsh from the Eagles. The musicianship is excellent on all three LPs, Flowing Rivers, Shadow Dancing and After Dark.
For the trio of US #1s, I Just Want To Be Your Everything is a sunny piece of pop reportedly written by big brother Barry in little more than 20-minutes. It was the perfect song to introduce Andy to American audiences and was the biggest summer hit of the year.
As for the followup, Love Is Thicker Than Water is just about as dark a horse of a late 70s #1 in existence. A slow-burner, the song took months to reach the pop summit, the sort of song you don’t quite know what to make of until several listens, by which point the majesty of the two minute instrumental fade-out has become so addictive as to upset you if you turned on the radio and realized the song was nearly over.
The third and biggest of the #1s has inexplicably largely disappeared off radio playlists and yet Shadow Dancing topped the US charts for seven weeks. Incredibly, in 1978 – the year of the Bee Gees – Andy outdid even his brothers when Shadow Dancing was proclaimed Billboard’s biggest hit of the previous 12 months. That said, all four Gibb brothers wrote the song, whose lightly funky textures and expert craftsmanship (listen carefully to the lead guitar licks and the horn arrangements towards the song’s end) make a mockery of claims the disco-era was catchy but simple. That breakdown 90-seconds before the fade-out, where the chorus is backed only by bass, drums and horns, is also the most badass moment in Andy’s recorded career. Shadow Dancing is crying for a decent A-list cover to reintroduce it. Fingers crossed.
In marking both Andy’s birthday and the 30th anniversary of his death, I leave you with a song that snuck through in the period shortly before his life ended. While the inspiration hadn’t been flowing for him in those final tragic days in England in 1988, Andy had teamed up with Barry and Maurice in Miami some months earlier during the summer of 1987. The three brothers – minus Robin – came up with a remarkable ballad. The song remained unreleased until 1991, three years after his death. Like literally dozens and dozens of songs in the brothers Gibb catalogue, this is a largely unknown work which is not just a strong, emotional song, but it sounds like a potential hit. This is Man On Fire: