This past week marked 40 years since Andy Gibb hit the summit of the US singles charts with Shadow Dancing, the title track to his second album. This wasn’t just a big hit. We’re talking double platinum in the US with more than 2.5 million copies sold in that country alone. Then there are the seven consecutive weeks at US #1. But perhaps most remarkably, in the same year as brothers Gibb smashes like Stayin’ Alive, Night Fever, Grease, Emotion, If I Can’t Have You and Too Much Heaven, Shadow Dancing topped them all. As in, when Billboard announced their biggest hits of 1978, there was none bigger than 20-year old Andy Gibb’s Shadow Dancing – Gibb-written or otherwise.
You won’t read a better, more detailed article about both Shadow Dancing the song and Shadow Dancing the album than this recent extended feature from Grant Walters of the website Albumism. With new interviews from people like co-producers Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson, Walters takes you inside the studio into how this complex piece of Latin-inspired pop-funk was crafted.
Complex. It’s not a word often associated with the music of teeny-bopper acts, but Andy Gibb’s music and Andy Gibb’s image were often at odds with each other. For a start, his own songwriting often lent towards country rock despite being an act people may associate with disco. Though as I’ve written about many times over the years, disco was as much an era as a genre and Andy’s catalogue was hardly about one dance floor-filler after another.
That said, Shadow Dancing was one such song. Written by all four Gibb brothers – Bee Gee brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice alongside baby brother Andy – on the same day the Bee Gees also wrote the bulk of two other US #1s, Too Much Heaven and Tragedy, Shadow Dancing is the most “disco” sounding song Andy recorded.
And whereas once that would’ve meant some people would dismiss it as ear-candy and little else, have a close listen to all that’s going on in the song. The horns, the nifty guitar licks on the verses, the strings, the funky breakdown where the strings climax and then disappear to just leave the lead vocal and the drums and bass; the sexually-charged vocal grunts of “oh oh” (or are they “ugh ughs”?), the matched nervous urgency of lyrics and melody for the bridge – “only you can see me through, I leave it up to you” – that then gives way to the cool nonchalance of the repeating chorus; Shadow Dancing may’ve been written quickly, but putting it together in the studio would’ve taken serious hours.
Serious songwriting and production chops too. Andy’s brothers were at a creative peak in the late 70s that few popular songwriters have ever matched in terms of quality and prolificness and to be a part of that magic on Shadow Dancing (the song) would’ve been incredibly special to Andy. It rubbed off too with solo Andy-written tracks from the album like Good Feeling and I Go For You being particularly strong.
Why the magic didn’t last for Andy has been well-documented, but just how good the best of his music is is seemingly less so. With that in mind, listen to Shadow Dancing again, including an extended edit below where that hypnotic chorus keeps looping over and over just as I always wish the studio and radio versions did too. And beneath the clips is the link to the Albumism article. Enjoy.