Back Tracks, In Memoriam: Robin Gibb
May 20, 2012: We’re deeply saddened to report that Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees passed away this morning in England at 10:47 a.m. (5:47 a.m. ET) at the age of 62. Gibb’s passing comes following a brave battle with cancer, courageously fought in the public eye. Robin Gibb will always be remembered for his great gift of song, with his angelic voice having provided comfort to so many of us in our saddest times and pure joy in our most upbeat moments. Robin, we will miss you.
In honor of this remarkable man, we offer Back Tracks: In Memoriam, originally published on April 27 as Gibb’s health had taken a turn for the better. We hope you cue up “First of May,” “Juliet,” “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” “Stayin’ Alive” or “Too Much Heaven” and enjoy this look back at a man whose humanity was as deep as his love.
A lyric from what we believe to be Robin’s final recording, “Don’t Cry Alone” from this year’s Titanic Requiem, comes to mind as a source of comfort:
“I’ll be there for you forever/Don’t you ever cry/I’ll sweep away your tears and sorrow/And I’ll be with you close tomorrow/I’ll be with you/Don’t cry alone.”
Rest in peace, Robin. Please share your memories of Robin Gibb below.
In the event of something happening to me, there is something I would like you all to see…it’s just a photograph of someone that I knew…
- Barry and Robin Gibb, “New York Mining Disaster 1941”
For many including yours truly, the best news to arrive on Record Store Day this past Saturday, April 21, wasn’t that of a great new vinyl acquisition or found treasure. Rather, it was the news that Robin Gibb, vocalist, songwriter and Bee Gee, had emerged from a coma. Gibb’s distinct voice has featured prominently on the Bee Gees’ most memorable hits, including their first song to be issued in the United States, “New York Mining Disaster 1941.” His soaring vocals could hold their own or add contrast to brother Barry’s falsetto. The road to Gibb’s recovery is still an uphill one, with the courageous artist facing advanced colorectal cancer and remaining in intensive care. But Gibb’s physician, Dr. Andrew Thillainayagam, acknowledged that “it is testament to Robin’s extraordinary courage, iron will and deep reserves of physical strength that he has overcome quite incredible odds to get where he is now.” Music played a central role in Gibb’s recovery, with Barry, wife Dwina, sons Robin-John and Spencer and daughter Melissa all having played music and serenaded Robin at his bedside. Robin-John told the BBC on April 24, “They gave him an under 10% survival chance and he has beaten the odds… he really is something else,” adding that his father is “completely compos mentis [of sound mind] now.”
As we keep Robin Gibb, 62, in our hearts during this difficult time for him and his family, we’re celebrating the rarely-heard music he created as a solo artist between 1970 and 2012, and hoping that there’s much, much more to come from this singular musician.
Robin’s Reign (Polydor, 1970)
Despite the beautiful harmony they created as vocalists and songwriters, The Bee Gees couldn’t shake familial tensions as 1968 turned into 1969. Tension between brothers Barry and Robin grew more intense each day, reaching boiling point when producer Robert Stigwood selected Barry’s “First of May” over Robin’s “Lamplight” as the lead single off the group’s Odessa. On March 19, 1969, Robin Gibb announced that he would turn his attention to solo recordings. He began recording almost immediately, but contractual obligations prevented him from doing much in the ensuing months even as Barry and Robin’s twin brother Maurice soldiered on as a duo with the Cucumber Castle television film and album. As autumn arrived, however, the air was somewhat cleared, and Robin concluded recording the album that became Robin’s Reign by October. (In an ironic twist of fate, Maurice and Barry would declare The Bee Gees disbanded by year’s end. Luckily for us, that turned out to be temporary.)
The first London session for Robin’s Reign yielded “Saved by the Bell,” which would become a No. 2 hit single in the U.K., as well as the album’s “Mother and Jack,” and two unreleased tunes, “Alexandria Good Time” and “Janice.” Kenny Clayton provided orchestral arrangements, and Maurice contributed bass and piano. Recording didn’t resume until September once Robin was extricated from his contract with Stigwood and signed with NEMS’ Vic Lewis. In August he had named in the press eleven song titles for an album intended to be called My Own Work (including “Alexandria Good Time”) but none of them were present on Robin’s Reign. The September and October sessions formed the basis of the eventual album, again employing orchestration (by Clayton and Zack Lawrence) not unlike that of The Bee Gees’ earliest U.K. albums.
The LP was released in February 1970 in the U.K. on Polydor and one month later in the U.S. via Atco. Robin’s Reign sold so poorly that a second solo album already in progress was never issued, and the album has only appeared on CD in an extremely hard-to-find German pressing. There’s much to admire here, though, and it’s long overdue for reissue. In addition to the classic “Saved by the Bell” (which most recalls his work with his brothers), there’s the calypso-flavored “Mother and Jack,” the dark “Most of My Life” and bold “The Worst Girl in This Town.” Other tracks such as the stately ballad “Down Came the Sun,” though not as distinct, offer strong vocals and sweeping arrangements. Robin’s Reign is also thought to be one of the first albums to have employed (primitive) drum machines, which gives its sound a unique character.
Of course, The Bee Gees’ vocal blend is what’s missed most on Robin’s Reign, which beefs up the singer’s powerful tenor with multi-tracked vocals that are no substitute for his brothers’ harmonies. And harmony ultimately won out over dissension. On August 21, 1970, it was announced that the three Brothers Gibb would reunite. How sympathetic were the brothers musically? They reportedly wrote “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” at their very first reunion session.
After the jump, we’ll meet you quite a few years later…1983, in fact!
How Old Are You? (Polydor, 1983)
Robin Gibb’s second solo album arrived over thirteen years after the first, and much had changed in the Bee Gees world since Robin’s Reign, including the rise and fall of disco. This phenomenon had irrevocably altered the group’s image, not to mention its style of music, with Barry Gibb’s falsetto having become The Bee Gees’ signature in the wake of Saturday Night Fever. Barry had begun to take on outside production projects for artists like Dionne Warwick and Kenny Rogers (with his brothers collaborating with him on many of the songs) and youngest brother Andy Gibb had carved out his own solo career with a little help from his siblings. But if you ever wondered what a Bee Gees album would sound like without Barry, here’s one tantalizing answer. Maurice collaborated with Robin on How Old Are You?, co-writing each song, co-producing, arranging and playing most of the instruments, too!
Like Robin’s Reign, How Old Are You? has one smash hit single as its centerpiece, and this time it’s the up-tempo “Juliet.” The pulsating, catchy track is representative of the album’s up-to-the-minute, slick and metallic sound. Every ingredient was in place for the single’s European success, setting the stage for the album itself. On How Old Are You?, the drumming is almost all electronic, with a great deal of synthesizers heard throughout. Guitar, bass, electronic piano and horns are skillfully blended into the mix. Maurice is vocally prominent on “In and Out of Love,” and although Robin sings in the upper reaches of his register, there’s no mistaking his voice for Barry’s falsetto. The title song, in which Robin lusts after a much younger girl, is irresistible. “Kathy’s Gone” works in the film references hinted at in the cover’s striking photo of Robin outside a cinema. It’s fascinating to contrast this album’s production with Barry’s sophisticated Adult Contemporary work for Barbra Streisand, Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross and others. All three Bee Gees had their fingers on the pulse of the era’s music, but Barry was exploring a different direction than the romantic dance/pop heard here.
How Old Are You? was released on CD in Europe although it is currently out-of-print. One unreleased track is known to exist, “Love is Just a Calling Card,” which would be a perfect bonus track on a future reissue.
Secret Agent (Mirage, 1984)
Fans didn’t have to wait quite as long for Robin’s next solo effort. He signed in North America with Mirage, a label distributed by Atlantic. Though How Old Are You met with great success in Europe, Robin wished to extend his “reign” to the American market, too! As with Barry, recently signed in North America to MCA, Polydor had rights to Robin’s work internationally. While Barry was recording his MCA solo debut Now Voyager (also sadly out-of-print) at Miami’s Middle Ear Studios, Robin was simultaneously at the same city’s Criteria Studios recording Secret Agent. Maurice joined Robin for an album that was a definite extension of How Old Are You? but with an even more aggressively modern, techno-influenced style. Even the busy Barry played a small part in the new LP, co-writing “Living in Another World” and “In Your Diary.” (Robin returned the favor, co-writing “The Hunter” on Now Voyager.) Robin also enlisted producers Mark Liggett and Chris Barbosa of Shannon’s 1984 hit “Let the Music Play” to contribute production duties.
The dancefloor was very much on Robin and Maurice’s minds, and lead single “Boys Do Fall in Love” would receive the 12-inch treatment with Extended and New Dub Mixes. It also courted an underground sensibility with its hinted lyrical question of whether boys do fall in love…with each other! “Secret Agent” b/w “Robot” would be the next single, and both of those songs would receive 12-inch mixes as well. The electronic sounds are much heavier than on How Old Are You?, and Robin goes so far as to adopt a robotic voice on “Robot.” All of the bass and drum parts were performed on keyboards this time around, and even the cover lacks the timeless quality of its predecessor. The lyrics weren’t as traditional as on the last album, although Robin still preferred a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure. Songs addressed robots, spies, the CIA and jungle temples – shades of Indiana Jones! There’s a dearth of ballads, however, and the album’s nine songs have a certain sameness that the last album successfully avoided.
Secret Agent’s “Boys Do Fall in Love” cracked the U.S. Top 40, the first time Robin accomplished such a feat with a track from a solo studio album, but Secret Agent didn’t prove to have “legs.” It’s currently out-of-print on CD, but a new edition with the extended 12-inch mixes as bonus tracks would certainly be welcome!
Walls Have Eyes (Polydor, 1985)
For 1985′s Walls Have Eyes, Robin turned to both of his fellow Bee Gees. Maurice joined Atlantic Records legend Tom Dowd to co-produce, and Barry co-wrote eight of the ten songs. Some might opine that Barry’s influence led Maurice and Robin to abandon the dancefloor grooves that had fuelled Robin’s last two solo albums; in their place were straightforward pop/rock sounds that managed to be both contemporary and in the style of the traditional Bee Gees sound. Lead single “Toys,” a dark paean to a lover, was written by all three brothers, and with Barry contributing a lead vocal, it’s a Bee Gees track in all but name: “I would go anywhere with you/Into your private paradise/Into your bedroom point of view/Into the depths of hell for you…I’d like to play with your toys/Be one of your special friends/One last emotion can bring”). The album was recorded at Dowd’s home base of Criteria Studios in Miami, and the producer recalled a tight budget being in place, though the album still has all the professional hallmarks expected of a Gibb Brothers recording. Despite the more melodic approach of most of the album, it’s not devoid of the dance/electronica styles that marked its two predecessors. “Like a Fool” was proposed for single release, and a 12-inch mix was created for the dance market, too.
A young group of musicians, most of whom had not previously supported the Gibb Brothers, were selected to play on the LP. Steve Farris of Mr. Mister appears on guitar; his Mr. Mister cohorts Richard Page and Steve George had actually sung backing vocals for Andy Gibb years earlier. Mitchell Froom, future producer of artists including Elvis Costello, plays keyboards along with session vet Duane Hitchings. True drums and piano appear on the album alongside the synthesized sounds. Maurice handles the piano on “Gone with the Wind,” the album’s most dramatic ballad.
Walls Have Eyes may be the least-known of Robin’s 1980s trilogy, but it remains beloved by fans as a true collaborative effort of all three Bee Gees. It has only been released on CD once, and is no longer available, like Robin’s other albums of this period. An expanded edition could include the 12-inch mix of “Like a Fool” as well as outtake “Modern Girls.”
Magnet (SPV, 2002)
With The Bee Gees a more or less ongoing concern, Robin Gibb didn’t record another solo album until 2002’s European-only release Magnet. It stands apart from all of the solo albums that came before by bringing in a contingent of outside songwriters and producers, to mixed effect. Robin spruced up two oldies for the album, “Another Lonely Night in New York” from How Old Are You?, and “Wish You Were Here” from The Bee Gees’ 1989 release, One. While the former song was recorded with a similar feel as the original, Robin rewrote the latter, originally intended by Barry as a tribute to late brother Andy. The only new song written by Robin for Magnet was “Inseparable,” co-written with producer Deacon Smith. Smith produced a total of eight tracks for the album, also writing a number of them, while Michael Graves produced two tracks (including a cover of the country standard “Love Hurts” with a rap element!) and Grant Mitchell handled one more.
Robin’s experiment didn’t quite pay off, however. Though his vocals were expectedly strong, the material was sub-par, especially compared to the brothers’ own high standard of songwriting. The hip-hop/R&B style was a bit contrived, with vinyl scratching on “Don’t Wanna Wait Forever” and a vocoder on “Inseparable.” Though adapting to the sound of the 1980s was no problem for the Bee Gees, already having mastered orchestral pop, R&B and disco, hip-hop was another story, entirely. Magnet didn’t make much of an impression in the marketplace upon its debut. Michael Graves and Errol Reid’s “Please” was the leadoff single in an edited version, issued late in 2002 and the only Gibb release that year. The Grant Mitchell/Graham Dickson co-write “Wait Forever” was also issued as a single, with an extended “Shanghai Surprise” mix as the B-side.
Robin Gibb with the Neue Philharmonie Frankfurt : Live (Eagle, 2005)
Much had happened since the 2002 release of Magnet. Robin’s twin brother Maurice Gibb had tragically died on January 12, 2003, leaving Barry and Robin to occasionally soldier on as a duo without their beloved brother and collaborator. Barry Gibb spent much of 2004 and 2005 reuniting with Barbra Streisand for the first time since 1980’s Guilty, writing and producing the album that became Guilty Pleasures. Like Guilty, it was recorded at Miami’s Middle Ear Studios, and as Guilty had been the first album made there, the sequel would be the final album made before the studio closed its doors permanently. There was some tension between Robin and Barry over potential tribute plans for Maurice including a concert and an album; their rift was widely-publicized and the tributes never materialized. Both brothers appeared on “Grief Never Grows Old,” a 2005 charity single for tsunami relief, alongside Cliff Richard, Brian Wilson, Boy George and others, but they recorded their parts separately.
Robin was represented in record shops with his first live album. In 2004 he had accepted an invitation from Frankfurt’s Neue Philharmonie orchestra as the guest artist in a program devoted to the music of the Bee Gees. The 10-day Magnetic Tour of Germany featured Robin backed by a four-piece band, backup singers, and the full orchestra. The 2005 CD, taken from the performance of September 18, 2004, is a bit of an odd animal, with Robin taking the lead on the disco material usually sung by Barry. It does find room, however, for both “Juliet” and “Saved by the Bell,” and two songs from Magnet. “Emotion,” a Bee Gees-penned hit for Samantha Sang, appears on Eagle’s DVD edition of the concert but not on the CD. Though the DVD performed well in Germany, entering the Top 10, the releases didn’t fare as well elsewhere. Still, the album is notable for preserving Robin’s rare performances of songs not usually associated with him on lead vocals, and he’s appropriately game on those tracks.
My Favourite Carols (Evolution/Edel/Koch, 2006)
Robin was always a trend-setter among the Bee Gees. He was the first to record a solo album, the first to record a live album, and the first to record a Christmas album, too! For My Favourite Carols, Robin selected fourteen songs, all from the traditional songbook (“Silent Night,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Away in a Manger”) and none of 20th century secular vintage. He reteamed with Michael Graves (Magnet), now known as Kwesi Graves, and the production employed percussion beats in addition to simulated organ and string parts.
My Favourite Carols appeared on three labels in three different editions. Hong Kong’s Evolution label added “Mother of Love,” a newly-written Robin Gibb song to the track listing. The German version on Edel retained “Mother of Love,” and added an instrumental medley (“In the Bleak Midwinter/O Come All Ye Faithful/Hark Herald the Angels Sing/Once in Royal David’s City”) plus two Bee Gees songs, “Come Some Christmas Eve or Halloween” and “Ellan Vannin.” The American version on the Koch label contained the ten Christmas carols only. A 10-minute video called A Personal Christmas Moment with Robin Gibb was included on DVD with the Evolution and Koch releases, and on the Edel edition’s enhanced CD.
The Titanic Requiem (2012, Rhino U.K.)
It made headlines when Robin Gibb was unable to attend the premiere of his first ever classical composition due to his failing health. Composed with son Robin-John, The Titanic Requiem was first performed live on April 10, 2012 at Central Hall, Westminster, London. The song cycle was written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, a tale previously musicalized on screen by James Horner and on stage by Maury Yeston. The Gibbs’ concert work was performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with the RSVP Voices and guest vocalists including Mario Frangoulis, Isabel Suckling and Robin Gibb himself on “Don’t Cry Alone.”
In the Telegraph, Ivan Hewett awarded the work four out of five stars, praising the “dignified” suite blending vocal showcases, orchestral pieces and settings of the Latin Mass for the Dead. Robin Gibb stated in interviews that he wrote the Requiem in a timeless style and the music could have been composed hundreds of years ago; Hewett confirmed that Gibb’s claim “turned out to be the literal truth, in parts. In the ‘Maiden Voyage’ section there was a scrupulous correctness about the part-writing that would have merited a tick from a 19th-century Leipzig professor. Coupled with a distinctly English tone (born of distant memories of folk music mingled with a kind of Jacobean courtliness), it made for something sweetly earnest.” He even compared the Gibbs’ writing to a classical great, stating that “‘Confutatis’ [had] a sudden turn to major-key radiance that Mendelssohn might have penned.”
A companion album was released in the U.K. on the Rhino label, and Robin Gibb’s performance of “Don’t Cry Alone” was actually played at the concert when he was too ill to attend in person. An American edition of this intense suite has been issued on the Redbreast Records label.
Robin-John Gibb told ITV News that his comatose father “woke up while we were playing the track which is a movement from the Titanic Requiem we have just written.” Robin Gibb’s art has given so much happiness and comfort to fans around the world, and so it’s only appropriate that his music’s healing properties have affected the man himself. We at The Second Disc wish him health and love.