And now, Robin Gibb, 62, another famous pop star from the British Invasion era, has died of cancer.
Those of us who are old enough to remember all that corduroy, pegged pants and bright Carnaby Street colors surely will remember how the Brothers Gibb, the Bee Gees, exploded on the scene with their 1967 international debut album, “Bee Gees 1st.” Klaus Voorman, one of the Beatles’ first fans in Hamburg, Germany, and the creator of the drawing for their Revolver album a year earlier, provided some colorful art for the Bee Gees cover, too.Back in those days, Fresno teens enjoyed a battle between two radio stations — KMAKE and KYNO — the developers of the radio format that became known as Top-40.
The two stations lived side-by-side on the dial (1300 and 1340, respectively), and if we didn’t like the song one station was playing, we could quickly and easily switch to the other.
The competition was intense, and given the influence of the British Invasion, both stations featured lots of music from across the pond. It was very cool.
We first heard of the Bee Gees through their Australian hit, “Spicks and Specks,” and its insistent, repetitive one note piano lick which propelled our puny teenage brains into a whole new realm of previously unimagined musical possibility.
I must admit I have never understood the meaning of the phrase spicks and specks, and I always assumed it must be some kind of down under slang. Nobody else seems to know what it means either.
But when the band arrived in England a couple of years later, the material from that first international album poured out as a string of hit singles that became the soundtrack for that late spring just before the triumphant and irrepressible Sgt. Pepper summer.
Robin Gibb sang most of the Bee Gees material in those days, so it was his unusual voice that led the charge.
The folksy, “New York Mining Disaster,” opened the singles flood gates and songs such as “Holiday,” “One Minute Woman,” “To Love Somebody,” “I Can’t See Nobody” and “Please Read Me” quickly followed.
That first LP remains one of the pop music gems of 1967 with classic examples of some of the best songwriting of the era. It still sounds amazingly fresh today, nearly 50 years after its release, and if I play it at a party, my guests frequently ask, “Who is that?” They’re usually surprised by the answer.
Most younger people know of the Bee Gees from their contribution to disco and the toe-tapping strut and swagger of “Stayin’ Alive” from the 1977 John Travolta showcase, “Saturday Night Fever.”
The amazing thing about the “Saturday Night Fever” Bee Gees is the way they completely reinvented themselves nearly a decade after they arrived on the scene. Barry Gibbs’ soaring falsetto took over the lead vocal and front man duties on most of that material.
Someone could argue some of the songs — “More Than A Woman” and “How Deep Is Your Love,” for example — bear a strong resemblance to the Bee Gees’ earlier work, and I wouldn’t argue with that assertion, but the point is the Bee Gees made one of the most successful and startling comebacks in pop music history with a completely new approach.
Consider for a moment just how big the Bee Gees were. According to his website, Barry Gibb shares the record with John Lennon and Paul McCartney for consecutive Billboard Hot 100 Number Ones as a writer with six, and the book of Guinness World Records lists him as the second most successful songwriter in history behind Paul McCartney. Heady stuff.
Now the voice that brought the band to prominence has been stilled. Rest in peace, Robin.
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