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Monday, May 21, 2012

R.I.P. Robin Gibb: One of the Golden Voices of Disco Dies at 62

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 10:10 AM

Robin Gibb, left, with his brothers in the Bee Gees.
  • Robin Gibb, left, with his brothers in the Bee Gees.

It doesn't happen very often, but now and then a song or album comes along that perfectly captures the mood of a historical moment and embeds itself into the consciousness of a generation. It happened with for the Beatles with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, and it happened for the Bee Gees in 1977 when they appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

The amazing success of Saturday Night Fever created an almost immediate backlash in some quarters, but in the late-'70s, the life affirming exuberance of "Stayin' Alive" and "Night Fever" created a rush that was more powerful, and longer lasting, than a line of cocaine. Money was plentiful. Everybody seemed to have plenty of leisure time (not to mention leisure suits), and middle class white men and women all across America were dancing to the Bee Gees. Guys were grooming themselves and preening, the women looked as good as always, and the hippie ethos had seeped into the consciousness of Middle America. Dancing wasn't just for gays and black people anymore. White folks were having fun and dancing the night away -- even dancing down the streets in broad daylight -- and the Bee Gees were always there, inescapable, pumping up the party with their anthemic songs and heavenly vocals.

The throbbing disco bass line and snappy high hat accents were part of the sound, but it was the high, shimmering harmonies of the Gibb brothers - Robin, Maurice and Barry - that lifted those songs from ordinary to transcendent. Their close harmonies were copied by everyone on the dance floor for years, singing "Ha, ha, ha, ha," with happy smiles on their faces every time "Stayin' Alive" came over the radio or club speakers. The Bee Gees had hits before "Stayin' Alive," in a variety of genres. They charted with folky psychedelia and soul in the '60s with "New York Mining Disaster, 1941" and "To Love Somebody," pop with "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" in 1971, and finally disco with "Jive Talkin'" and "You Should Be Dancin'," but Saturday Night Fever eclipsed them all. It won a Grammy and made them international superstars.

The Gibb brothers were born in England, grew up in Australia, and moved back to England during the '60s, after The Beatles had made London the center of the musical universe. Robin and Barry sang lead and contributed their trademark three-part harmonies alongside brother Maurice. They all shared in the writing credits. Despite his fame, Robin led a fairly quiet life and kept a low public profile. Sadly, he started making news again in 2010, when he had an operation for complications caused by a twisted small intestine, a congenital condition that took the life of his twin, Maurice, in 2003. Later that year, his family announced he was battling colon and liver cancer. Earlier this year, Gibb announced his full recovery and continued working on his first classical composition, "The Titanic Requiem," a piece co-written with his son Robin-John Gibb, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the famous ocean liner. By the time the piece premiered in April of this year, Gibb was in the hospital with pneumonia. He passed away Sunday, surrounded by family, including his wife Dwina, his daughter and sons and his brother Barry. His voice may be stilled, but the songs he sang and the music composed will go on forever, reminding us all of the joys of Stayin' Alive.

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