Some of the greatest musicians don’t really have a “vault”. For every Prince, there’s a Paul Simon, and where Prince’s vault is estimated to contain as many as 8000 songs, Paul’s genius is in no way diminished by the fact there are said to be very few leftover gems. As for the sole surviving Bee Gee, Barry Gibb, the occasion of his 75th birthday is as good a time as any to investigate that vault. Quick tip: it’s big. Verrrry big.
Sure, maybe not quite Prince-level big, but as the Bee Gees said in the title of arguably their finest post-70s album – 1993’s Size Isn’t Everything – well, size isn’t everything.
But here’s the thing, it’s always been one of the bragging points about the brothers Gibb that they were exceptionally prolific writers. The quality of the lesser known corners of that whopping back catalogue always surprises new fans too. We are talking 22 official studio albums containing 231 songs. Add to that non-album singles, solo albums, songs written for other artists and indeed, entire albums written for other artists, it’s estimated Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb created something in the vicinity of 1000-2000 songs.
Included in that total are unreleased albums and tracks that while heavily bootlegged, are strong enough to one day warrant an official release. From as far back as the early 60s, the Gibbs were writing far more songs than they could personally handle. It’s why while even just a teenager, Barry was up there with the most in-demand songwriters in Australia before the family returned to England in 1967.
From 1967 until Maurice’s untimely death in 2003 aged 53, the Bee Gees were an unstoppable hit machine: 21 different US or UK #1 singles as songwriters, performers of 44 different US or UK top 40 singles, and album sales well in excess of 200-million. But still, there were terrific songs that slipped through the cracks.
So with that in mind, let’s celebrate the gent that is Sir Barry Gibb turning 75 today, September 1st, with six brilliant songs from deep within his vault.
Born – 1970
When the Bee Gees temporarily split at the tail-end of the 60s, each brother worked on solo projects. For Barry that meant further diving into his growing love affair with Americana and the kind of gospel and soul-influenced country that made The Band famous. Born was one of the standout tracks from Barry’s ultimately unreleased The Kid’s No Good album and features a call-and-response with soul singer P.P. Arnold.
Your Love Will Save The World – 1975
An off-cut from Main Course, the Bee Gees big comeback album in 1975, Your Love Will Save The World was written just before songs like Jive Talkin’, Nights On Broadway and Fanny Be Tender. As such, it probably didn’t seem quite exciting enough compared to the material they were now creating. True, but it’s a pretty compelling Robin and Barry alternating lead, with a repeating chorus melody not dissimilar to Richard Clayderman’s Ballade pour Adeline.
Given Clayderman’s track – written by French songwriter Paul de Senneville – came out 1977, this is coincidence. Barry’s impassioned, slightly raspy upper-natural voice register is yet another vocal styling for a man not short on them.
Shape Of Things To Come – 1988
Written for the 1988 Olympic Games album and omitted from the Bee Gees 1989 album One, this song wasn’t a priority release up against Whitney Houston’s One Moment In Time. A shame because this is another ripping track with Barry switching between his natural voice and falsetto in thrilling style for the verses. The chorus almost sounds like Maurice on certain words, but is Barry and Robin in unison.
Childhood Days – 1988
Sandwiched between the Bee Gees triumphant return to the UK and European charts with the album ESP the year before, and their US resurgence with the album and title track One the year after, Barry’s solo soundtrack album Hawks was for some reason barely promoted. Even major Bee Gees fans are often unaware of its existence; a shame when you’ve got material as emotional and realised as My Eternal Love, Letting Go, Not In Love At All, Where Tomorrow Is and my choice here, Childhood Days.
A co-write with Maurice (who makes a fleeting appearance in the extremely rare video), the harmonies on the hook, “and it echoes down the mountainside” make this beautiful, melancholy ballad soar.
My Destiny – 1993
Size Isn’t Everything might be the Bee Gees late career peak, but the third-to-last album for the trio would’ve been even better if this punchy, industrial-pop ditty made the cut. Some serious vocal interplay between Barry and Robin on the verses gives way to three-part harmonies – including falsetto – on the ever-ramping up chorus. It wasn’t the only excellent track discarded from the Size sessions with the laidback, more R&B-flavoured 855-7019 every bit as good.
Angels – 2016
A co-write between Barry and his sons Stephen and Ashley, Angels is an immensely moving song that was written to order for the South African film Shepherds And Butchers. Starring Steve Coogan in a dramatic role, the movie’s subject matter is of apartheid and the emotional consequences of the death penalty. Heavy stuff, but Angels is the perfect, hopeful prayer to accompany it. Sung by the acclaimed South African folk singer Vusi Mahlasela.
And if that’s not enough Barry Gibb/Bee Gees for you in one day, here’s the most recent interview I did with him (our seventh in total) that broadcast on Newstalk ZB in January of this year. It’s all about the success of his Nashville-recorded, Americana-inspired duets album Greenfields:
And then if that’s still not enough and you somehow haven’t yet seen the brilliant, 6x Emmy nominated documentary about the brothers called How Can You Mend A Broken A Heart, it’s streaming internationally on HBO Max, Apple TV and Amazon Prime. You’ll see a certain Tim Roxborogh in the credits too.
Happy birthday Barry! Stay healthy, hope to see you soon.