Book Review: Bob Stanley – Bee Gees: Children Of The World
Melinda Bilyeu’s The Ultimate Biography Of The Bee Gees: Tales Of The Brothers Gibb, published in 2011, and David N Meyer’s Bee Gees: The Biography, released to the world two years after, are arguably the best of the genre of literature that makes up the Bee Gee canon, and it’s a body of work that’s almost as impressive as The Beatles. From Barry Gibb’s scintillating falsettos to Robin Gibb’s dreamlike vocal performances (both aided by third brother Maurice), the band amassed a fanbase across Europe and further aseas, and their back catalogue – richly produced and pieced together with professional acumen – shows no signs of abating.
The challenge for Bee Gees: Children of The World author Bob Stanley, perhaps best known for the 2013 meisterwerk Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, is clear: by peering behind the curtains, mullets and hooks, will he find anything startlingly new about the trio that hasn’t been committed to the page? A challenge that’s being made all the trickier by virtue of Barry’s desire to portray the band’s history as if it was his and his alone to steer, in the absence of his three younger brothers. (Andy Gibb, more than a decade Barry’s junior, had become something of a musical heartthrob himself outside of the orbit, before his tragic demise in 1988.)
What Stanley offers is clarity, offering answers as to how or why they acted in the manner they did. Within three chapters, he’s sussed out the three musicians, forensically deconstructing each of them in a style that’s unique to the band’s overall legacy. Barry at his most fertile, hungry and ambitious could write anything up to one hundred and eighty songs, offering the brothers a hefty start as they ventured from Australia back to their native Britain.
Robin boasted a fearlessness that made for riveting viewing onstage, although backstage, his daredevil antics raised eyebrows or two (Stanley wrily comments, “They survived, just about, into 1969,” no doubt arching his eyebrows as he jotted this down.) And then there was Maurice, who sang the fewest numbers, yet possessed a musical knowledge that benefitted the band immensely. Awash with flair, Maurice worked on many of the arrangements, performing many of the key riffs on piano and bass guitar. The book’s keen critical eye ensures it never falls too heavily into gossipy tittle-tattle, although there are tidbits galore: Reminiscing on the success of “Massachusetts”, Barry reveals he noticed a change in his sibling, which might explain why Robin left in 1969 for solo stardom. (“There’s fame and there’s ultra-fame, and it can destroy,” Barry reasoned in 2020.)
Whatever differences they had, the three brothers wisely put them aside to reboot the band for the 1970s, putting together a collection of songs that became Trafalgar, arguably the band’s most accomplished work. In one salient passage, Stanley points out that “music was their therapy”, which might explain why the Gibb’s trajectory lasted longer than Noel and Liam Gallagher’s. And although Stanley is keen not to point out a favourite, Maurice ultimately emerges from the pages as the most thoughtful member of the group, and certainly the proudest of their collective achievements.
Maurice’s contributions did not go unnoticed, as both of his brothers called on him in the 1980s when they opted to record their own solo records. Indeed, his presence was so strong that Barry and Robin refused to release another album under the Bee Gees name after he died in 2003. Robin followed in 2012, leaving Barry as the only surviving Bee Gee. But rather than end the book on a dour note, Stanley illustrates a songwriter who can proudly bask in his achievements, bolstered by a book that shows him in a more interesting and more human fashion than ever before. Bee Gees: Children of The World is a fine addition to the library of books on the band.