R.I.P. Robin Gibb

Singer and songwriter Robin Gibb died today at the age of 62 after a long struggle with cancer, The New York Times and other sources are reporting. Gibb, with his brothers Maurice (Robin’s twin, who died in 2003) and Barry, found fame as part of the Bee Gees, a decades-spanning act that first found success in the mid-60s, writing and singing Beatles-inspired pop songs. (A fourth Gibb brother, Andy, who had success as a solo artist, died in 1988 at the age of 30.) Though born on the Isle Of Man, the Bee Gees’ career began in Australia, where the family relocated in 1958. The group found international stardom after returning to England, where they began a long association with the music impresario Robert Stigwood.

Under Stigwood’s guidance, they began a long hitmaking run that included such singles as “New York Mining Disaster 1941,” “To Love Somebody,” “Holiday,” and “I Started A Joke,” songs that found success in spite of melancholy undertones that didn’t always fit into the spirit of the times and marked by Robin’s distinctive tremolo.

The ambitious 1969 double album Odessa ended this first period, and the first lineup of the Bee Gees. The brothers parted ways with their established backing band after its recording and, even more significantly, Robin left the band over artistic differences, leaving Barry and Maurice to continue on without him. He was back two years later, and though the early ’70s provided the group with one of their biggest hits in “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?” the group struggled professionally.

And then: disco. In 1975, the group released Main Course, whose lead single, “Jive Talking,” announced a change of direction. The Gibbs stayed the disco course and in 1977 their music played an integral role in the era-defining John Travolta-starring film Saturday Night Fever. Their contributions—as performers and songwriters of tracks like “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” “Night Fever” and other songs—helped propel the album to 15x platinum status. Barry’s voice came to the fore, but the tight harmonies of the brothers remained as essential as ever.

It was an impossible-to-top success, and the group didn’t top it. An embarrassing turn in the film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band followed then 1979’s Spirits Having Flown, a last hit before a messy legal battle with Stigwood and then a decline in fortunes as the disco backlash kicked in.

But the group made occasional returns to the chart and retained a following as a concert act until Maurice’s death. Beyond that, time has been kind the music of the Bee Gees. It’s not mere nostalgia that makes their disco hits still sound propulsive and where so many groups who tried to hold their own against the Beatles in the ’60s now sound like psychedelic kitsch, the Bee Gees’ best efforts from that era remain strange and moving. The career had twists and turns and the sound chased twins, but Robin and the other brothers Gibb always made music that came from the heart.

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