The Bee Gees’ transformation from late ’60s Beatles-influenced pop balladeers to mid-’70s disco kings is one of music’s most remarkable stories. After a stagnant period in the early part of the ’70s, the Brothers Gibb came back in a huge way with an amazing string of disco hits spanning five remarkable years, highlighted by their contributions to the massively-popular Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. That incredible era when the Bee Gees ruled pop music is now captured on this new boxed set featuring the studio albums Mr. Natural, Main Course, Children of the World, and Spirits Having Flown—all reissued in vinyl-replica packaging
Of the four records in this collection, the inclusion of Mr. Natural may seem out of place since it wasn’t a hit album upon the time of its original release in 1974. Yet Mr. Natural, perhaps the most overlooked and underrated Bee Gees record, is a crucial part of the trio’s career—it was their first collaboration with renowned R&B producer Arif Mardin, who certainly injected a bit of of an American soul influence into the Bee Gees’ repertoire of romantic pop ballads. The album’s opening track “Charade” at first may seem like a continuation of the Bee Gees’ Edwardian pop from the previous decade, along with other slow numbers like “Had a Lot of Love Last Night” and “Throw a Penny.” But when you get further into Mr. Natural, you can hear traces of the new sound that would later rear its monstrous head: from the Vegas funky “Down the Road” and the hard-hitting soul of “Heavy Breathing” (probably containing the most gritty vocal performance by Barry Gibb up to that point). It was clear that thanks to Mardin that the brothers were expanding their sound.
And expand they did on the turning point record, 1975’s Main Course (again produced by Mardin). Buoyed by the group’s relocation to Miami, the album’s disco influences were very pronounced (as well as Barry’s falsetto) and contained two of the band’s beloved hits in “Jive Talkin’” and ‘Nights on Broadway.” American soul music was obviously in the trio’s vocabulary—for example, the heavy funk of “Wind of Change” could have been tailor-made for Philly soul groups such as the Spinners and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Meanwhile, the ballads grew more R&B-sounding and slick like on “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” and “Edge of the Universe.” From top to bottom, Main Course is a filler-free brilliant pop album that ranks alongside the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack as far as the benchmarks of the Bee Gees’ catalog.
With Mardin unavailable, the brothers themselves produced their next album Children of the World (1976) with collaborators Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson. Aided by the dazzling keyboard work of Blue Weaver, the flashy drum work of Dennis Bryon, and the wah-wah sounding guitar of Alan Kendall, the brothers turned in an even more funkier effort with this album. The opening song, the adrenaline-pumping “You Should Be Dancing” is a universal classic, but that’s not the only highlight: the romantic swagger of “You Stepped Into My Life,” the sexy and lowdown “Boogie Child” (which was the “Sexy Back” of its time), and the devastatingly beautiful soul ballad Love So Right are just some of Children of the World‘s standouts. It really displays the confidence of the group at this juncture of their career, setting up of what would become a spectacular run at the pop charts.
After the massive success of Saturday Night Fever (1977),as well as writing and producing hits for others, the Bee Gees had the Herculean task of recording the follow-up album. They did so with 1979’s Spirits Having Flown, which would turn out to be the penultimate work of their disco phase. And it didn’t disappoint but rather picked up where Saturday Night Fever left off with three number one songs: the melodramatic “Tragedy”, the lush “Too Much Heaven,” and the funky and pleading “Love You Inside Out.” Yet on this record, one could detect that the group was starting to shift a bit (maybe restlessness) from the disco template for something more philosophical and reflective (but still romantic) – as indicated by “Spirits (Having Flown),” “Reaching Out,” and the ethereal closing song “Until.” Spirits Having Flown was the end of the Bee Gees’ disco reign closing out the ’70s, as the group would never score another U.S. number one song again.
As a bonus, the boxed set contains a disc collecting the group’s hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack – the legendary trifecta of “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep Is Your Love,” and “Night Fever” – along with B-sides such as “If I Can’t Have You” and Warm Ride and non-album songs like the ballads “Our Love (Don’t Throw It All Way)” and the very country-esquire “Rest Your Love On Me.” Those tracks really make this new collection feel complete. Of the different phases of the legendary group’s career, the one reflected in 1974-1979 is what most people remember. And after listening to this music again, it’s not hard to understand why.