Bee Gees – 1974-1979 (box set review)

Bee Gees – 1974-1979 (box set) (Reprise) review

The Bee Gees’ Miami grooves – in a box

Because it’s been almost 40 years, it’s easy to forget just how dominant the Bee Gees were in the late Seventies.  In 1978 alone, they had a number one hit for 26 of the weeks of that year, either as performers or songwriters.  That’s HALF the entire year in the top spot.  In February of 1978, five of the Top Ten singles had Bee Gees’ involvement and six of their singles in a row went to #1.  For awhile, everything the Bee Gees touched turned to gold.  Bee Gees: 1974-1979, a new five-disc box set, encapsulates the trio’s meteoric rise to cultural icons.  Included in the set are four studio albums, plus a bonus disc of singles and rarities.

The Bee Gees first hit with “New York Mining Disaster 1941” in 1967.  That slice of Beatles-inspired harmony pop kicked off a string of eleven hits, which saw the band slowly morph their sound with the changing times.  But after the gentle “Run to Me” in 1972, the hits dried up.  Needing a change of scenery, the band moved to Miami and began working with producer Arif Mardin, who had previously worked with artists like Aretha Franklin.

The resulting album, Mr. Natural (the first disc in this set), was not a hit – but they were getting closer.  “Throw a Penny” had a light groove, while “Heavy Breathing” featured horns and funky guitar.  “Charade” is gorgeous, but made an odd album opener – it’s so light, it’s almost not there.  Both “Mr. Natural” and “I Can’t Let Go” featured great hooks, and should’ve been big hits.  Word is that the Gibb brothers almost gave up after this failure.  But, they were encouraged to try one more time.

Main Course once again featured Mardin in the producer’s chair, but the Gibb’s decided to infuse some of the dance grooves they were hearing in Florida.  This decision made all the difference in the world, as the album’s first single, the pounding “Jive Talkin’,” shot straight to number one, followed by the sweeping “Nights on Broadway,” and the seductive “Fanny.”  The Bee Gees’ sounded incredibly confident in their new skin.  “Winds of Change” and “Baby As You Turn Away” were other standouts on the record.

Due to contractual obligations, Mardin was no longer able to work with the band, yet they soldiered on with Children of the World, which became an even bigger hit, yielding the number one smash, “You Should Be Dancing.”  The track featured Stephen Stills on percussion and a searing guitar solo from Alan Kendall.  The album, as a whole, was grittier – with the urban feel of “Boogie Child” barely missing the Top Ten.  “Love So Right” showed off Barry Gibb’s command of his falsetto singing.  Both “Lovers” and “Children of the World” contain some fantastic three-part harmonies.

As the Bee Gees began work on a followup, manager Robert Stigwood asked them to write songs for an upcoming movie about the burgeoning disco craze.  The subsequent film, Saturday Night Fever, became a surprise smash, propelling the Gibbs-dominated soundtrack to the top of the charts.  “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep is Your Love,” and “Night Fever” were all number one hits.  These are included in the special bonus disc titled “The Miami Years,” which also features their versions of other Fever songs “More Than a Woman” and “If I Can’t Have You.”  The Bee Gees were so huge, they even placed a song on the Country charts, the b-side only “Rest Your Love On Me.”

Following up this unprecedented success proved surprisingly easy, as they returned with Spirits Having Flown – yielding three more number ones – the gorgeous “Too Much Heaven,” the rocker “Tragedy,” and the odd funk of “Love You Inside Out.”  “Spirits Having Flown” and “Living Together” were other noteworthy tracks.

In July 1979, radio shock jock Steve Dahl staged his famous “Disco Demolition Night” at Comiskey Park in Chicago, and chants of “disco sucks” became common.  The Bee Gees unfairly became the poster boys for this derision.  Now, almost 40 years later, almost no one remembers Dahl’s name – yet the Bee Gees’ music still sounds fresh today – remaining a constant in dance floors, and in regular rotation on radio stations around the world.

The discs come housed in a glossy, clam shell case featuring all four of their dance-oriented studio albums, plus the bonus “Miami Years” disc.  They’ve also recreated the album jackets, right down to the lyric inner sleeves.  Bee Gees: 1974-1979 captures a moment in time that will probably never happen again – it’s the Bee Gees as the biggest band in the world.  —Tony Peters