The sound of disco

Together, the Bee Gees, Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten created what most of us think of as the sound of disco, but it was not their intention to invent a new style. "We never knew about disco and we didn't think about disco. We thought we were making rhythm and blues records. It was all about R&B. We loved all that stuff, we just couldn't figure out how to do it! 'Oh man, that sounds great, but it sounds like a room full of studio musicians.' 'Yeah, well...' The sound we came up with was therefore our sound, and for the Saturday Night Fever album we recorded all of the tracks in France, and overdubbed and mixed in Miami, while overdubbing in LA too. 'More Than A Woman' was given to the Tavares brothers, and their track came in sub-standard so we were asked to go out to LA and finish the Bee Gees' own demo. That's what we did, adding congas and strings before mixing at Criteria.

"'Night Fever' was cut live in France. Maurice was playing DI'd bass with his pick, Dennis Byron was playing drums, Blue Weaver was playing keyboards, Alan Kendall was playing rhythm guitar, and Barry was playing rhythm and singing the pilot vocal. The drums were the only thing retained from this live track — it was a complete take, not comped — and all the other parts were overdubbed, like the keyboard part that was carefully crafted. I mean, many parts weren't there from the start. Blue, Barry, Albhy and I would sit down and say 'That chord sounds great there, but how about when the guitar player goes "dang, wa-tang"? Do you want the seventh in the chord or do you want to leave that hole there?' Those were the kinds of things that had to be worked out.
"It was all very orchestrated. It was a process and it was all about 'head charts'; creating in the studio. You know 'Gee, OK, that's the part of the verse for the keyboards.' Then we would go for the performance. All of the arrangements were done on the spot and then the performance was executed until it felt good. That was the standard. It didn't matter how we got there — whether something was thrown together or it was one take — our concern was that it felt good, that it made a statement. How it's done, I don't know. I mean, how do you make a Mercedes-Benz? Do you start with the tyres? All I know is the end product. If that's accepted, then how it came to be is just detail.

"We had no guidelines. The only rule was there were no rules, so we could do anything. It didn't matter if it was a bass drum or a synthesizer sound — we would talk about it and say 'Well, why don't we do this?' And I can't recall anything specific because this took place almost on every song. Plus the fact that everything was at least second-generation, most of it third. On the next album, Spirits Having Flown, we discovered 48-track, so everything at that point was multitracked, Dolby, bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced, bounced, whereas the other stuff was 24-track. However, to get it to 24 a lot of it was hand-sync'ed and we'd overdub forever. Again, those sounds were probably limited to what we had available at Criteria in terms of reverb chambers, processing, MCI consoles. Who knows?

"I do know this: 'Night Fever' is the rough mix. We mixed that song in 10 minutes. We had overdubbed all these synthesizer pads, extra guitar notes, little percussion instruments and so on, and we kept mixing it again and again and again, and then finally we played the rough mix and everybody said it felt better. You see, it was all about feel at that time. It wasn't about trying to impress people. And that was the key to the music. As a matter of fact, we had a demo of 'How Deep Is Your Love' from France, with the brothers singing, Blue playing keyboards and Mo playing bass, and right up until the final mix we would play that rough mix from France to use as a guide, because the feel was everything to us. "
One thing that distinguished the Bee Gees from traditional R&B was their characteristic rhythms. "A lot of that was Barry's right hand," Richardson says. "I mean, every one of those records has some form of acoustic guitar with Barry going ching-ching-ching. Whether it's hidden or not, it's there, driving the track along."