The Bee Gees How Can You Mend A Broken Heart

Photography used with permission, courtesy of Suzanne Allison Photography.

When you hear the name “Bee Gees,” many automatically (and erroneously) think “disco.” However, the Brothers Gibb truly were anything but, and this new HBO documentary proves beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Bee Gees were massively underestimated. But the music journey of Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb was a tumultuous one, and How Can You Mend A Broken Heart lays it all on the line.

They’ve sold an estimated 220 million records and had six consecutive US number ones during their late-’70s phase. This achievement alone begs the question – how come the Bee Gees still remain rather underrated?

Producer/director Frank Marshall weaves an intricate tapestry of the Brothers Gibb and their lives, from their humble beginnings in the Isle of Man, to their first successes in London, to their astronomical success in Saturday Night Fever, to their lives after the wheels came off. And ultimately, the untimely deaths of Andy, Maurice, and Robin.

Sole survivor Barry Gibb, interviewed in Miami in 2019 states, “I am beginning to recognize the fact that nothing is true. Nothing. It’s all down to perception. My immediate family is gone, but that’s life.” This statement sets the heartbreaking tone of this documentary. He goes on to say he’s certain Robin and Maurice would all have different perceptions of this time.

The film is rich with numerous interviews from all three brothers, plus baby brother Andy, and is told from their point of view as much as is humanly possible. In addition, interviews from many former band members, as well as recording executives and engineers from throughout their career, including the late, great Robert Stigwood.

Starting in Australia, where the boys spent a large part of their childhood, the film follows their careers from their earliest days, to their successes once moving to England. The film also contains interviews with ex-wives, and other celebrities, such as Noel Gallagher from Oasis, and Justin Timberlake. Timberlake summed it up best with this statement: “There’s nothing else to say about the Bee Gees except they were f*cking awesome.”

Their hits started early, on their third album, The Bee Gees 1st, in 1967. That’s when the song New York Mining Disaster 1941 broke out as a hit, followed by To Love Somebody, which was initially written for Otis Redding. Redding died before he could record it. Their initial success spiked, then cooled a bit, but the brothers weren’t quite finished dancing with fame quite yet.

Good friend and label-mate, Eric Clapton, convinced the brothers to move to Florida in 1974, stating that he’d found “a fresh new sound” in Miami on the ocean at Criteria Studios. After the massive success of Clapton’s 461 Ocean Blvd., the brothers all followed suit, and headed to Miami.

They recorded at Criteria Studios and released the album Main Course in 1975. This was their first album with their new sound – a funk undertone and Barry’s falsetto, and was very well received in the U.S., with their hit Jive Talking heading straight for #1. The songs, Nights on Broadway, and Fanny (Be Tender) soon followed. The Brothers Gibb were back, with Main Course being a huge turning point in their careers.

Their album Children of the World followed in 1976, spawning even more hits and solidifying the Bee Gees new funkier R&B sound, and setting them up for their monstrous success with the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever. Ahlby Galuten was brought on to mix and co-produce the album and is credited with changing the Miami sound forever. He also produced brother Andy’s solo career, as well as hits from Barbra Streisand, who collaborated with Barry on an album at a later time.

Saturday Night Fever was both a blessing and a curse for the brothers. The album sold 25 million copies between 1977 and 1980, which at that time was the most copies sold of any sound recording since sound recording began (To date, it’s sold over 40 million copies). Barry, Maurice and Robin were in France, recording their next album when Robert Stigwood called them, requesting songs for his upcoming movie starring John Travolta, tentatively titled Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night. After the song Night Fever was written, Barry was the one who suggested the name change Saturday Night Fever to Stigwood.

But the curse? The Bee Gees were wrongly tagged with the “disco” label, even though they repeatedly pointed out they were funk influenced. When disco crashed and burned in 1979, it took all the acts, including the Bee Gees with it. Even though they had released the hit album Spirits Having Flown, they could feel the shift in the universe, moving away from their music. They toured in support of the album, to sold out crowds, but that was the beginning of the end for them. The anti-disco movement was underway and took on the force of an out-of-control, speeding freight train, taking down anyone who remotely resembled the sound with it. The Bee Gees, Andy Gibb, and many other acts were victims of the fallout.

While the brothers would successfully collaborate with many other artists, such as Streisand, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, and Celine Dion, they would never again achieve the heights they did during the mid to late 70s.

Add into this equation, the substance abuse. Barry was relatively free of it, thanks to the iron hand of wife, Linda, but the other brothers weren’t so lucky. Maurice was overly fond of scotch and became a severe alcoholic. Robin preferred pills and became addicted to them. Andy suffered his addictions worst of all, becoming addicted to cocaine, which damaged his heart irreparably, and contributed to his death in 1988, at age 30. Maurice developed severe intestinal issues in January 2003, a twisted intestine, which caused him to go into cardiac arrest and pass away. Robin Gibb succumbed to complications of colorectal cancer, resulting in complete kidney and liver failure in 2012. He was 62. Barry is the lone survivor, still residing in Miami Beach.

I had so many emotions watching this documentary. First, I was so pleased that it was very accurate, and extremely well-done. I know this, because I lived it. As a resident of Miami and Miami Beach during that same time period, my girlfriends and I spent many an hour chasing after Barry, Maurice, Robin and Andy. From Criteria Studios, to the Bee Gees own personal studio in South Beach, to their homes, we followed them around mercilessly. And they were very kind to us, indulging us, allowing many pictures, giving us drinks on hot days, and chatting with us when they easily could have walked away.

Secondly, it was simply heartbreaking, seeing them on stage, hearing them speak, and knowing they are no longer with us. I treasure those memories, not because of their fame, but because of their many kindnesses to all of us girls. These men shaped the careers of at least two of us. We were treated like gold, and I am forever thankful.

I’m glad the producers stayed true to the story of the brothers. This documentary was truly a gift, and everyone should see it.

Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected].