So the Grammy people are throwing a Bee Gees tribute concert saluting the album that permanently sabotaged the Bee Gees’ musical reputation.
You gotta love music. It’s just hard sometimes not to wonder about the music business.
Stayin’ Alive: A Grammy Salute to the Music of the Bee Gees is taping Tuesday night at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and will be telecast later this year on CBS.
Bee Gees music will be sung by your proverbial star-studded cast, including John Legend, Celine Dion, DNC, Demi Lovato, Keith Urban and you get the idea.
The alpha star will be Barry Gibb, the last surviving Bee Gee, who will perform material from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack that sold 582 zillion copies and secured the Bee Gees’ fame and fortune forever.
When Gibb says he’s honored and appreciative, there’s no reason to doubt him. It’s hard not to appreciate the rewards you get from making the biggest selling movie soundtrack album of its era. It’s hard not to feel honored when a major broadcast network and the music business join to build an international TV special around the 40th anniversary of that record.
You just have to wonder if somewhere deep down inside, Barry Gibb might hear faint strains of that early 20th century favorite, “Bird in a Gilded Cage.”
Saturday Night Fever, released in 1977, gave the Bee Gees an unlikely second wave of popularity that swamped the already impressive wave they achieved in the 1960s.
In the process, Fever pretty much obliterated everything else they had done. Because Saturday Night Fever was a disco movie, the ultimate and definitive disco movie, each spin of “Stayin’ Alive” or “Night Fever” pounded home the message that the Bee Gees were the musical voice of disco.
It takes nothing away from Donna Summer or Gloria Gaynor to say that the songs from Saturday Night Fever are usually the first ones that come to mind if you want to either remember or forget disco.
And the Bee Gees themselves – Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb – for years were ambivalent about that.
Yes, they realized a thousand other artists would have trampled cute puppy dogs to reach that pinnacle.
They also quickly realized that most of the music biz and many fans suddenly forgot a lot of good music they made before Fever and didn’t much care what they recorded after Fever once a couple of residual, similar-sounding hits had passed.
“That disco label followed us around like a curse,” said Maurice Gibb before his death in 2003.
“People only thought of us as a disco group,” said Robin Gibb, who died in 2012. “We were never a disco group. We never made disco records. But after Fever, radio wouldn’t play anything else.”
Barry Gibb expressed the same sentiment, saying the group wasn’t thinking about writing disco songs when Fever producer Robert Stigwood asked if they had anything that might fit his new, vaguely defined dance movie.
The Bee Gees had been writing songs for a new album of their own, so they showed a couple to Stigwood. He thought they were great, both Maurice and Barry recalled, and just wanted a bit more of a disco beat.
Sure, why not?
“Then when the movie blew up,” Barry Gibb said, “we were associated forever with that sound. When we tried to go back to our own sound, it was hard getting anyone to listen.”
Now there’s nothing wrong with the Saturday Night Fever songs. Technically, they’re as smooth as the icing on a royal wedding cake, and you could sure dance to them, which has always been a frontline criterion for popular music.
It’s just that their 1960s stuff was, well, better.
“To Love Somebody” may not be as slick as “Night Fever,” but the harmonies and the interplay of voices is more satisfying. “To Love Somebody” may not define an era, but as a record, it’s got much better legs.
The Bee Gees had already been singing for close to a decade when they started scoring a few hits in the mid-1960s, first a minor ripple with “Spicks and Specks” and then a bigger splash with “New York Mining Disaster 1941.”
Asked if they sounded like the Beatles back then, Barry Gibb replied, “I hope so. We certainly tried hard enough.”
They made fine records that sounded great over the radio. “Words.” “Massachusetts.” Musically, those records secured them a solid legacy.
You can bet your polyester Tony Manero suit that at some point Tuesday evening, someone will say the Bee Gees were not just a disco group. Then the show will continue celebrating the record that made this disclaimer necessary and futile