Billboard May 21 2001
“What you have here are three brothers known for writing songs - that's what we do,” says Barry Gibb, standing broad-shouldered and bronze with thin streaks of silver in his beard and dark mane. “We're not a pop group that falls out of fashion and comes back again - we're a songwriting team. Why avoid the fact that that's what we really do?” His furrowed brow relaxes, and he breaks into a smile as he sits down between his brothers in the comfy upstairs office of their Middle Ear Studio in Miami Beach, Fla. “Now that I've got that off my chest, what else should we talk about?”
There's a short, respectful silence from Robin and Maurice Gibb, the twin siblings who've been Barry's bandmates in the incipient Bee Gees since they began as a pre-adolescent trio warbling material by 10-year-old Barry like “Turtle Dove” and “Let Me Love You.” Then Robin cuts through the tropical calm with bold remarks about the “hellishly low” standards in film music these days. His brethren roll their eyes as he gets more sardonic, and then they erupt in catcalls as the unsated Robin hollers, “The world should know this!”
On a more grounded level, the Bee Gees and their public agree the world should know that they notched an informal No. 1 Australian hit (i.e., it topped the record surveys in such major cities as Melbourne) in 1966 with the Barry Gibb-authored “Spicks and Specks.” Reared on the Irish-Sea-encircled Isle Of Man but living with their english parents in Australia since 1958, the trio returns from Down Under at the start of 1967 to seek their pop fortunes in England. The brothers, then supported by early Bee Gees band members Vince Melouney (on guitar) and Colin Petersen (on drums), were stars within months of the arrival, due to the success in the United Kingdom and the United States of “New York Mining Disaster 1941” (sometimes known by its unofficial subtitle “Have You Seen My Wife, Mr. Jones?”).
“Robert Stigwood brought their first demo to me and said, 'I've got these Austalian lads, what do you think?'” Paul McCartney recently recalled for this writer. “And it was the 'Mining Disaster' song that he played me. I said, 'Sign them, they're great!' and they went on to be even greater.”
In the decades since the Bee Gees have placed 43 singles (including nine No. 1s) and 28 albums on the Billboard charts, with their new album, This Is Where I Came In, expected to follow suit when it's released worldwide from Polydor U.K. on April 2, and in North America by Universal Music on April 24. Besides being one of the most esteemed and successful groups of all time, the Bee Gees have seen their songs covered by acts as varied as Janis Joplin, Nina Simone, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, the Lightning Seeds (all of whom cut “To Love Somebody”); Elvis Presley, Rita Coolidge, Boyzone, Glen Campbell (each of whom recorde “Words”); Vonda Shepard, Faith No More, Beautiful South, Robbie Williams & the Orb (“I Started A Joke”); and a diverse army of others, including Frankie Valli, LFO, Ultra Naté, Percy Sledge, Jose Feliciano, Cleopatra, 911, Melba Moore, Sarah Brightman, the Levellers, Johnny Mathis & Denice Williams, Brenda Lee, Conway Twitty, Moxy Fruvous, Status Quo, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Celine Dion, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Wyclef Jean, Ozzie Osbourne, O-Town and Low.
Among the worthy songs of This Is Where I Came In, that seem likely to be reinterpreted by other hit-seeking acts over the next 35 years are the uplifting “Déjà Vu” and the hymn-like “Embrace,” the former expressing a “dedication” that endures through “feast or famine,” and the latter describing “The power of the human heart/The secrets in the souls of men” and vowing, “Reunited we will rise.” How such vigor and hidden resources remain possible in the often obstructive, format-restricted world of popular music is an intriguing tale, and the brothers Gibb, looking sun-kissed, svelte and strapping despite their exhausting track record, joined together on a warm and bright Miami Beach afternoon in February 2001 to tell their story.
Your new album is a confident statement built on a firm foundation. There aren't too many acts of the rock era still selling, as you are, at the platinum level. The Beatles, who recently topped the charts globally with 1, began playing under the name in August 1960, and added Ringo in August 1962. But the brothers Gibb debuted in Manchester, England, in 1955. Then, 12 years later, after returned to England from nine years in Ausralia, you were signed by the same management firm - NEMS [North End Music Stores] company - that managed the Beatles.
Robin: It was 34 years ago this week that we actually arrrive in England, and it was just a few months after “Spicks And Specks” had become our first hit in Australia.
Barry: Yeah, it was February of '67, and I remember going into NEMS and seeing those hallowed halls, as it were.
Maurice: Yes, with Robert Stigwood and Brian Epstein, and it was all during that early period. We even ended up going around England touring in the same big, old-fashioned black-windowed limousine that the Beatles used all the time.
You also got something else from the Beatles that is used on the title track and first single from your ne album, This Is Were I Came In.
Maurice: [Smiling, nodding] That's right. The guitar I play on the track - but not on the video - of “This Is Where I Came In” is an acoustic Gibson Monarch. Years ago, what I got for my 21st birthday was a movie camera from Ringo [Starr] and a guitar from George [Harrison] and a Monarch guitar from John [Lennon]. The one from George is the 12-string Rickenbacker, the  Shea Stdium [concert] one, which he also used on recordings.
What also happened was when the Beatles stopped touring in the 1960s, we ended up with their equipment: the Vox amps and the microphones and stuff like that they used when they toured 'round Britain! Barry ended up with John's Vox amps, and Vince Melouney ended up with George's amps. I had the bass speaker with the bass amps on top that was Paul's. So we had all this stuff, and it all went away eventually. But we still have the Vox amp that Barry had that was John's.
Robin: We came back to England by boat (the S. S. Fairsky) - five to six weeks on the boat! We did a lot of writing on it.
Maurice: In fact most of the Bee Gees' first album was written on the boat.
Barry: We wrote “One Minute Woman” on it.
Maurice: And “Turn Of The Century.”
Robin: We wrote “To Love Somebody,” or portions of it, on the ship, off the course of Aden [...]. But we didn't finish it until England.
Maurice: The funny thing is, we got on the boat and they didn't even know we were supposed to be there, and we were the entertainment. We'd applied, but if Dad [Hugh Gibb] hadn't gone to see the purser, we could've travelled for free and never worked. But we only did about six shows in six weeks. We worked our way over. We had heard that the Original Seekers [...] had worked their way to England.
Barry: See, the entertainment room was over the captain's cabin, which was good for us because we didn't have to work, didn't have to play. He said “No, no, no. I don't want entertainment at certain times, bacause I've got to go to bed.” So he called the purser in and told him he didn't care. So we did one show a week.
Robin: But we were still up all night writing because we bought some Dexedrine in Aden, wich was still under British rule at the time, and we wanted to put it to constructive use. You have to remember there was a war on in Aden at the time, and there were warships in the harbor. So, when we went ashore they said, “Go at your own risk.” Then they said, “You three go ashore, everyone else - stay!” [Laughter]
Dexedrine was a legal drug there, and we went into a drugstore, and they just sold it to us. The owner said, “There's a war on, and I'm getting out. Here, take what you want.”
Maurice: Robin and I were 16, Barry was about 19, and at that age you think you're invincible. The guy said, “Here,” and held up these big bottles of yellow Dexedrine pills, so we bought them.
Barry: [Grinning slyly] But we had a wonderful time at that trip, just with the places we saw.
Maurice: Like the pyramids in Egypt, and the Valley of the Kings. And just going into the streets in Naples, and into the streets of Pompeii, and buying a sitar in Colombo, the capital of what is now Sri Lanka.
Barry: We crossed the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean. So we went to Australian as children and came back to England as young adults.
Maurice: We had done a lot of records in Australia, and we were developing some clout were ready to go to England as teenager with wide musical experience. The only way we could capitalize on our popularity as boys in Australia was doing club work for an adult audience. The rock'n'roll touring circuit for kids hadn't completely happened yet.
Barry: At the same time, we were doing well at getting our songs recorded by other artists. That's why we still think that's what we actually are - a team of songwriters. We still don't actually think we're a pop band, because we'd done that as children. See, in a simplistic way, we've been brought up in three cultures: the Asian music we were exposed to in Australia and the region around it, the American R&B influences we loved, and the British heritage of the music-hall and pub scenes.
As kids, you got a strong dose of full spectrum of Indo-European Culture.
Barry: Exactly, which is why some of our stuff sounds so different. I was fascinated by a lot of the great musical instruments and sounds that come from Iran and Iraq.
Maurice: And some of our singing sounds like it's influenced by Arabian chants. There's a strange loneliness to it, as well.
I listened to “New York Mining Disaster 1941” for two years before I focused on the lyrics, because what initially came through the strongest was the forceful mood of lonesomeness and longing.
Barry: We're all ultimately isolated and alone. But that song was actually about an incident we didn't comment directly on until years afterward. It was inspired by the Aberfan mining disaster in Wales in 1966, in which people were killed, including children.
Robin: Our lyrics were entirely fictitious, but that was our real inspiration. We were very affected by it, the news of that terrible disaster, but didn't want to say that directly at the time, out of respect for the dead and their families.
Barry: We wrote in the dark in the hallway.
That's remarkable, because that's the feeling you get from the song - one of listening in the darkness and overhearing others speaking blindly to each other across a void.
Maurice: There was a power outage at this demos studio at Polydor at Stratford Place in London, and the light had gone out. We walked outside the studio and into the hall, and there was this echo that came from the ground floor right up to where we were - I think we were on the fourth floor. There was this whole atmosphere, I guess, of being in a mine hole.
Barry: So we went back, and we were sitting in the lounge, and we got the first line: “In the event of something happening to me.” And we thought, “Oh, that's a good line, people will know what we're talking about.”
Maurice: There's a lot og weired sounds in the track. Besides the Jew's Harp, there's this snap percussion instrument, and there's a string quartet. What's also impressed me over the years is people asking, “How is Barry playing the guitar chord?” Because in the tuning, when he plays the A minor at the beginning of “Mining Disaster,” it's different from a conventional A minor.
Barry: It's a Hawaiian tuning, and now there are festivals in Hawaii where they play the same way I do. I got a guitar for my ninth birthday, and the guy who lived across the road from us had just come back from Hawaii, so he taught me that tuning. “That'll get you started,” he said, and I never changed from that tuning!
Maurice: A nice mixture also comes from my conventional tuning when I play acoustic guitar against Barry's tuning, because his open D and mine are different.
Barry: It's two entirely different tunings.
Tell me about the composing of “Massachusetts.” Why did you pick that state? Did you just like the sound of the word?
Robin: [Giggling] Yes!
Maurice: And the lyrical idea was based on what we felt was the Flower Power thing going on in those days in San Francisco.
Barry: That was written during our first visit to New York. We actually had a party at the New York Hyatt, and only a few people turned up. Incidentally, I still can't look at Spinal Tap because it's so close to things we went through at the time.
Were you once second-billed to a puppet show, too?
Barry: We were second-billed to a diving horse in Atlantic City! [Laughter]
Robin: Funnily enough, that was when “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” was No. 1 in 1971.
Maurice: We did shows on bill with dog acts in Australia, so we said, “This is a piece of cake.”
Did you have to share a dressing room with the horse?
Robin: On occasion, but he soon refused. He wanted his own, painted pink. [Laughter] Here we thought we were being very nice, offering to share space with the horse.
Barry: But really, whatever circumstances you could describe for touring, we've done that.
Meanwhile, you have so many people recording your music and imitating your sound these days - from Wyclef Jean to U.K. teen pop acts like N-Trance and Steps.
Robin: In the teen groups, you definitely hear a bit of us at times in the vocal styles. It's just obvious when they record our songs and keep the vocal arrangement, too, like when Steps had their No. 1 [in the U.K.] with “Tragedy”.
Barry: We just heard that Destiny's Child recorded “Emotion”, the song we wrote for Samantha Sang, for possible use on their next album. We were thrilled. I'd love to hear it; the thought of it is fantastic.
“Sacred Trust,” on our new album, was written for the Backstreet Boys, who fell in love with it immediately and asked if they could do it.
Maurice: It hadn't come out yet, but they did interviews on how great it was to do that song, and that the Bee Gees had written a song for them.
Barry: I must tell you something else: The Latin rhythms and grooves you hear these days on a lot of pop records sometimes sound similiar to us. Because most of the musicians we worked with at Criteria studios in Miami in the '70s were Latin. Joe Lala, for example, is probably the best Latin percussion person we've ever used.
How do you feel about people covering your hits? Faith No More did a version of “I Started A Joke.”
Barry: I haven't heard that. Most times it's very flattering, but often I'm still not comfortable with it. The Robbie Williams [& the Orb] version of “I Started A Joke” was the kind of thing you hear in a lunatic asylum, fused with...
Robin: ...an old man with diarrhea. [Laughter]
Barry: It was almost like someone took it and said, “How can I destroy this song in every way?” Well, he succeeded. But usually, when anybody famous does one of our songs, it gets us off.
Maurice: We were blown away when Elvis did “Words.”
Are there cover versions you particularly admire?
Barry: Al Green's “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.” At the same time, we also feel the influence that some of the people who like our songs have had over us, so it makes sense with that version of “Heart,” because we love Al Green. A song on the new album, “Technicolor Dreams,” was very influenced by Noel Coward, the man responsible for songs like “Mad Dogs and Englishman” and “Mrs. Worthington.” I think he was a big influence on the Beatles, too.
Like the Beatles, you came of age at a point when you could still be exposed to show tunes, music-hall traditions and great popular songwriting of a Noel Coward sort, which were all part of the pre-rock mainstream. But, while you played tough halls and pubs in cities and towns, the Beatles didn't have your experience as kids of performing for older generations.
Barry: Yes, as children, we sang for people much older than us. We did difficult material: Mills Brothers songs like “Paper Doll” in their very close type of three-part harmony. Our father, who had a band, would play their records for us.
Robin: But, at the same time, we did contemporary stuff like Roy Orbison songs, with his near-operatic falsettos, and, when I first met Orbison, I told him that. We had a good professional relationship with Orbison until he died. I loved to do songs like “Crying.”
Barry: Also the influence of church music and Sunday-school singing is very subliminal in our music but definitely there.
Maurice: You can hear the church choir thing on a song like “Holiday.” Once again, it's the sense of loneliness and of atmospherics that our music often has, for some reason. It can sometimes sound at home in a cathedral, that odd hauntingness.
Barry: Speaking of that cathedral sound, Timothy, would you ask Robin if he would please perform in concert some songs from an old album of ours, Odessa?
That's the great unknown Bee Gees album. I've heard fans call it “The Red Album,” because of its original scarlet velvet cover. Back in the late '60s, many people felt it was the best album the Bee Gees ever released. Despite the hits and familiar songs on it - like “First of May,” “Melody Fair,” “Suddenly,” and “Marley Purt Drive,” which most people know for its refrain, “With sixteen kids and a family on the skids/Gonna go for a Sunday drive” - why is Odessa still so obscure?
Barry: Well, let's set the scene for when and where it was done: it was at IBC [Independent Broadcasting Company] Studios in London and, I would have been 21 or so. At the time I was individualistic: “I want credit. I want to be a star.” We'd begun breaking away from each other at that time.
Robin: I think it was partly the fact that we'd always lived at home with our mother and father, and we were just becoming adults and looking to be free of each other.
Maurice: The girls in our lives encouraged that independence too, which is natural. Mine at the time [Lulu....] was at the business, too.
Barry: And the idea of it being a double album - it wasn't supposed to be that, but everybody was doing that, like the Beatles [...]. Odessa came out in [early] 1969, [...] and the Who were coming out with Tommy [...]. It started out as a concept album about a shipwrecked sailor who's homesick.
Maurice: We always imagined the title track in a film with young Peter O'Toole and Audrey Hepburn walking in Red Square. But, when we wrote it, I remember us being in a European hotel, and one of our musicians had his cello by itself. That's how “Odessa” was born.
Robin: It was a hotel in Cologne.
Why was the music so sad and forlorn?
Robin: I had seen the move The Battleship Potemkin [...], and I was very affected by it. Then the idea of the marine influences came in. We wanted to do a story set in Russia, of a man “on an iceberg, floating free,” thinking back on his life. In a sense, it was music of pre-Titanic.
Barry: Again, Odessa marked the period when we were breaking up. We weren't talking to each other, so we weren't even in the studio together half the time, with some of us cutting parts of it in New York, while others were in London. We weren't as friendly toward each other. [Indeed, the Gibbs' older sister Lesley had to fill in for the allegedly ill Robin in '69 on a Bee Gees London TV appearance.] We were losing that. So the record took three or four month - a long time in those days.
Maurice: Remember, the Bee Gees 1st album was cut in a month.
Barry: And years later, in 1975, Main Course was three month, and Fever was six months. And then Spirits in '79 became ten months, so you see how it goes. Once things become successful, it takes more time to do them! [Laughter] But in '68 three months was long. We each wanted to try different things. “Marley Purt Drive” [...] had a country violinist and banjo player on it because we were listening to American country music at the time.
Maurice: For “Melody Fair,” I tghink we were just in IBC Studios jammimg, and that song later became well-known because of a film which used a lot of our songs called Melody , after a young girl who falls in love. “Melody Fair” was a huge No. 1 in Japan.
Barry: As for Odessa, I think that we may remaster it so that it's different from the past, and, as a bonus, we should do a live version of “First Of May,” “Marley Purt Drive,” “Melody Fair,” and “Odessa” - but we should wait until we have a full orchestra to do it live.
Robin: I'd be nice to announce it “The Odessa Suite.”
Barry: [Beaming] Great! I've been trying to get you sing “Odessa” on stage for years! But, back at the time we first made that album, we weren't there to promote it. In fact we didn't promote it at all - because we weren't on speaking terms.
The Bee Gees became popular at a point where the Beatles were nearing their peak. In Germany, on one occasion, you drew a crowd of 80,000 people.
Barry: George Harrison always said, “You were four years later than us; we were four years earlier than you.” That's the way he put itto me, and I'd never known until then whether the Beatles even thought about the Bee Gees being around. You didn't know.
Maurice: Not until Paul came to the show at the Saville Theatre [in '67]; that's when we knew.
“Lonely Days,” a No. 3 hit in 1970 off the Two Years On album, was almost a blues lament.
Barry: Yes, and that was written the day we came back together after our breakup. And “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” was written at the same session.
Robin: That was written in Holland Park in London, in the basement of Barry's Place.
Barry: Robin had come to see me to talk about getting back together roughly two years after we broke up.
Maurice: It was just a matter of working out the ideas, and the piano in “Lonely Days.” The two tracks were cut that evening in a studio in Wardour Street. The nicest compliment I ever heard about “Lonely Days” was when a manager in a restaurant turned around and said, “You know, that was best Beatles song ever.” [Laughter]
Barry: “Lonely Days” is really how we felt about being apart. “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” was how we felt coming back together. So, while we weren't saying these things to each other, we were writing songs that said these things.
Maurice: Even the wives were clapping along on “Lonely Days.”
Robin: [Wryly] Or were they clapping on the third song we wrote “Go Fuck Yourself, You Assholes. You Haven't Changed a Bit”? [Huge laugh] Maybe that was the one, but we left that off the album.
“Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)” from Main Course in 1975 was a classic ballad in the midst of your resurgence with producer Arif Mardin as blue-eyed R&B record-makers.
Barry: We had a housecleaner named Fanny when we were staying at 461 Ocean Blvd. [in Nort Miami Beach] during the making of Main Course. We were sitting in the lounge at Criteria [Studio] writing a song with the lyric idea, “Be tender with my love.” Maurice turned 'round and saw Fanny and said, “Wouldn't it be a better song if it was a woman's name in there, and you're asking her to be tender?” He suggested Fanny.
Maurice: Arif Mardin did a beautiful job with that and everything on Main Course. Years after, my wife and I were in New Orleans on a bus with Quincy Jones and his band, and [Nick] Ashford and [Valerie] Simpson, Patti Austin and James Ingram; and they all did a acapella version of “How Deep Is Your Love.” Afterward, Quincy turned to me and said, “That's for you man - great song, but I've got to find the right person to cover 'Fanny (Be Tender...).' It's one of my favourite R&B songs of all time.”
Barry: I must say, when we wrote a lot of these songs, the Stax artists were our idols.
Robin: We would have loved to have had Otis Redding record “To Love Somebody.” We had him in mind when we did it.
What's most understood about the transition from the Bee Gees' folk-pop era into the R&B of Main Course?
Robin: In the first wave of success we had in the 1960s, there was a R&B/soul thing in songs like “To Love Somebody.” But, at that time, Polydor Records didn't want us to get deeper into anything that sounded like funk.
Barry: They were the same as they are now - they want to tell you what to record. And you just can't. When “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” became a No. 1 record, they didn't want to hear us do anything else but ballads.
Maurice: Also we were very influenced by Linda Creed songs, like “Becha By Golly, Wow” [a 1972 hit], and by the Stylistics' [1974 single] “You Make Me Feel Brand New.”
Barry: “Love So Right” was us trying to be the Delfonics.
Business people rarely understand that even a band's hard-core fans still want to be surprised. Surprise is more powerful than predictability. Most people know the story that the tempo for “Jive Talkin'” was inspired by the rumble of the roadbed on the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge you drove across each day going to the studio in North Miami. But how did you work out its vocal arrangement?
Barry: Organically, by sitting around with Arif and just stumming, in Studio A at Criteria in an empty room.
Maurice: Arif was brilliant, full of ideas. That's why we did the Mr. Natural album with him, which was like a rehearsal, really, for Main Course. He knew all the grooves and the feels, and was so experienced. Arif, I think, taught us a hell of a lot about production.
Barry: And he really like our singing voices! We often wondered on what point in the industry does an artist become as important as an executive. The industry often has a different set of priorities than the artist has. What a pity that those things can't be married more. We need more understanding, because artists are temperamental by nature; they are, by nature, emotional. That's why you sign them.
Spirits Having Flown was a highly sophisticated record, in terms of arrangement and compositional ambition. It was atmospheric and spooky, too, with its notions of reincarnation.
Barry: I agree. I we tried all kinds of stuff musically. We had things like Herbie Mann's flute playing on it. But the album had too much falsetto.
Robin: The album became very successful [...]. But we could have actually gone another year without putting out that album, because when we brought that out, Saturday Night Fever was still in the Top 10. The album came out too soon.
Barry: It was the absolute greed factor - the record company wanted it.
Robin: Fever had become so overwhelming [...]. It was just far too soon to bring out another album.
Barry: Saturday Night Fever has, in fact, become something you just want to talk about - your mouth actually gets dry.
Still from the bassline outward, the title track is one great recording.
Barry: When I think about the Fever album, I think about a bunch of amazing records. I don't think about disco or this or that. I only think about the recordings, and I have no negative feelings about them. But these songs would have just been on our next album - not that soundtrack.
Robin: When we gave the songs to the movie, we didn't see it. Nobody had any clue it was going to be big. The first time we saw the movie was when it came out.
Barry: And we thought the level of the music was too soft. We made Robert Stigwood turn the music up, because you could hear the stomping feet in the dance scenes! We said, “The feet are louder than the music! The music in the theater should overwhelm you, like you're in the club itself. You don't want to hear shuffling feet!” [Laughter]
Maurice: So they reshot scenes with people having to shout and talk louder over the music, as you would in a club.
Barry: Another misconception is that the Sgt. Pepper movie, which we were filming the day the Fever album came out, killed Fever.
It didn't happen like that at all. Fever buried Sgt. Pepper - which came out afterward - for the next two years. It hurt Peter Frampton, but the Bee Gees were on the highest point of their careers for the next two years.
Robin: Pepper wasn't a big film.
Barry: It stunk! We knew it was all over when the director said, there were no lines in the film. - no one talks. We all looked at each other and had a meeting with Robert to see if we could go home. But still, Fever rolled right through it.
To where it reached a saturation level.
Barry: But let me tell you something else that never gets dicussed, and that is that we were in an enormous legal battle with our record company at that time. And, when you're in an enormous legal battle with your record company, what you're dealing with is a highly charged political situation. It wasn't just the idea of disco or “We've had enough of the Bee Gees.” There was a massive battle going on, and they were not going to allow us to continue with our career in America while we taking action against them. Why? Because we wanted to get paid!
It was very inflammatory, the whole situation. So the reasons were much more than whether the culture was finished with that kind of music or indeed fed up with the Bee Gees. And these other reasons ran to something like $20 million. We were trying to get paid and where absolutely frustrated at every turn. We found out we didn't own our songs! We never made a deal to give our songs away; we just found out we didn't own them - that was after Fever. And than we found out we didn't own our masters - or that we never would. And, for us, it was a question of starting to fight back, for us starting to say, “You simply can't do this, you can't own everything.” The very idea that we would audit the record company became personal to them, but we just wanted to get paid. We were trying to do normal business.
Did it ultimately get resolved?
Barry: Yes, and that's why we own our publishing today, and that's why we own our masters today. And that's why we love that was done with the Recording Artists Coalition [in getting the “Work for Hire” copyright amendment repealed in Oct. 2000], and we totally support [the idea], that anyone who creates something should own it.
There were more artistic peaks to come. “You Win Again” from the E.S.P. album  was No. 1 in the U.K., and  One record and [1993's] Size Isn't Everything, which aren't as well known in America, were also big overseas. “For Whom The Bell Tolls” from Size was No. 4 in the U.K. and an anthem outside America and might be the Bee Gees' finest single. Than Still Waters , which hit No. 11, and One Night Only , a live set, that quickly went gold, became very successful in the States.
Robin: The irony of One is, that the title single was top-10 in America but nowhere else. “One” was written in an office at Primrose Hill in London.
Barry: That's right. We needed an extra song. So I took a guitar, and we all sat upstairs in that little room to write one more song and really make it count.
Robin: “For Whom The Bell Tolls” was written right here in this room with one microphone with us in chairs around it.
Barry: For “For Whom The Bell Tolls” I said to Rob, “I've got a bit of a melody - would you like to hear it?” Robin liked it, so I said, “Let's get Mo and expand it.” But it's a horrible thing if you've got a “For Whom The Bell Tolls” and a [U.S.] radio station says, “No, we don't want to hear it. It's the Bee Gees, so we're not gonna play it.”
Robin: Yet the response to it was immediate - we sold half a million singles in the U.K. [snaps fingers] just like that. And we get a great reaction for it on stage.
Looking back, how do you feel about the hit records you made with other artists, like Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton and Dionne Warwick?
Barry: We feel proud about them, but we didn't always know how it might help them or not. “Chain Reaction” for Diana Ross was the biggest single of her career in Europe [her first U.K. No. 1 smash in 1986] , and it was the last song we cut with her.
Maurice: And nobody particularly wanted it on the album.
Barry: [Nodding] The whole album was done, and she was still looking for that one song she could call a single. We've always done well by loving what it was we were working on, but, whether it was gonna be successful or not, we never knew that. We asked her, “How do you feel about doing something that you might have done 25 years ago?”
Maurice: We thought, “Wouldn't it be great to make a great Supremes record - we've got the lead singer!”
Robin: Prior to that, nobody had really revisited her roots for her solo records.
Barry: For “Heartbreaker” , Dionne Warwick didn't like the song at first. Kenny Rogers' and Dolly Parton's “Islands In The Stream” [No. 1 on the Hot 100, 1983] wasn't gonna be a duet - it was just gonna be Kenny. Things happened all the way down the line that we didn't expect.
Maurice: The Guilty record sold copies in Europe, where Barbra never had an audience before. It was her most successful European album [with her inaugural U.K. No. 1 single, “Woman In Love”].
Barry: At first, we didn't want to do it because it seemed so overwhelming. What if she doesn't like what we do? So, what we did was put it on her last album she made, Wet , and the question was, “Can we beat this?” Never mind that it's her singing; instead of worrying how big the star is, “Can we beat this album?” And for us it was yes.
What I said to her was, “We don't want to make an album; we want to make the best pop album you've ever made. And we may fail, but I want to go into like that.” It's so subjective, given her Broadway albums and things, but we did our best [...].
Your new album, This Is Where I Came In, goes to every strength the Bee Gees have: love songs, danceable cuts, narrative classics, folk-rock ballads, rock-pop anthems. And “Wedding Day” could become a standard.
Barry: On Providence, the [NBC] TV show, they asked us if they could use “Wedding Day,” and it was broadcast in a part where there was a marriage. We weren't gonna let them use it, but they were very nice. It was like when they used Al Green's version of “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” on Ally McBeal.
The acoustic rhythm-guitar hook on the title track is great.
Robin: “This Is Where I Came In” is one of the last songs we wrote for the album. We wanted a purely acoustic-sounding song, which we hadn't done for quite a while. There's no drum tracking or any of that stuff; it's all straightforward.
Maurice: I dubbed on the electric riffs in the background, but the vocals I think we did only twice. I was listening to Robin singing as I played, bouncing ideas off him, so it all remains unexpected and spontaneous.
Barry: We didn't want one of those big production things. This album for us is variety. It just stands on his own - it's not like another Fever or Main Course or anything before. We just thought, “How many different kinds of songs can we do?” And then we gave each other the space to go away individually and come up with things ourselves - which we used to do without any feelings of malice. So we did four songs together, and three or four each, and chose from them. It's our definite album of the collaborations and their diversity.
The gliding “Walking On Air” is an example of an unusual, distinctive cut.
Maurice: To me, it's a very summary song. It has a little influence Beach Boys-wise, a nice, light hearted love song for summer. It was a little adventure, like most of the new songs are.
Robin: When Brian Wilson heard it - because we send it to him - he recognized the influence immediately. The whole album's naked, compared to what we've done in the past. It envolved as we played, and it became a good idea, and it became a reflection of us - this is were we came in. It's a sardonic remark of ourselves, but it's based on the do-it-yourself appraoch we started out with. Everything we're doing in the studio always goes down on DAT tape the whole time, so, while we're scatting around the microphone, something may come out that night be a jam.
Barry: As Noel Coward describes songwriting, he says, “I get my melody, and I don't move one note. The lyrics must fit like a glove. I make every word fit the notes I love.”
Maurice: I went to a trade show the other day of all the Pro Tools company's new recording gadgets. Nobody has to sing in tune anymore! Nobody has to play an instrument anymore! They can instantly double every track, with everything perfectly in pitch and right on the beat.
They told me about a big new star, saying “He was out of tune a lot, so what we did is we corrected that, and then we got these two guys and double-tracked them and matched them up with him, so it all sounds like one voice.” I thought, you don't need talent anymore; all you gotta do is look sexy and put a bunch of dancers behind you and you're happening.
Barry: But we're fighting that, kicking and screaming. And then you get into the area of these bloody extra mixes, this variations of your record. Which at one point would never and should never have happened. Now they take e record you love, chop it all up and send it back to you and say, “What do you think?” Then they're shocked when your reaction is, “What happened to the record we made and love?” and their reaction is, “Yeah, we know you don't like it, but we need the remix anyway.” Doesn't it count that we don't like it?
A top label executive recently told me he worries that there are no true nationalradio hits anymore because all the separate versions can make the potential audience so fragmented.
Barry: I talk to my 19-year-old son, and he says his age group is only interested in any variation of your record that they can get their hands on. Moreover, they will literally go out of their way to find a version of your record that no one's ever heard before - and only that!
You told me earlier you're very interested in doing more music for films.
Maurice: We are. We wrote “Miracles Happen” on Still Waters for the latest version of Miracle On 34th Street, but at the last minute the director said he was going to use old Christmas carols and hymns. The unfortunate thing is that the last thing they do with film is put the music on them.
“Immortality,” the song we wrote for Celine Dion, was like film assignment - but the film only exists in our head. Point is, she believed in us.
Barry: [Nodding] Our message is about faith. Robert Stigwood was a perfect example of someone with that kind of faith. He said, “Give me that kind of song.” So we get inspired. There's a faith factor - you want to be believed in, and if you're not believed in, it really affects your work. But when someone else has faith in what we do, we really deliver.
All in all, has it been a pretty good ride?
Barry: [Laughs] All thing's considered, we still love what we're doing. And we're old enough now to override the things that divided us when we were younger.
Robin: Although we still take sex very seriously.
Maurice: But haven't quite needed Viagra yet.
Barry: All of our children are into music of their own tastes. I think it started with an interest in what we were doing. They're into hip-hop, heavy metal, rock.
What are your favourite Bee Gees songs?
Robin: “Fanny (Be Tender With Our Love),” “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” “Too Much Heaven,” “You Win Again.”
Barry: “How Deep Is Your Love.”
Maurice: I love “The Singer Sang Hsi Song” from way back [in 1968]. But the songs are like our kids, and you're feeling funny favoring one to the other.
Robin: [Chuckling] They're like our kids, but some of them wander off.
Maurice: [Grinning, shrugging] This is pointless, isn't it?
Barry: [Laughing] Of course it is!
Robin: [With a wink, rising to leave] They're like our kids, these songs, but now and again you have to change their diapers.