I’ve gotta get a message to you. The Bee Gees are celebrating half a century in the business we call show, and Rhino has invited fans to the party with the release of Mythology: The 50th Anniversary Collection, a new four-disc box.
There’s always something unmistakable about a family’s vocal blend. The Gibbs belong to the same tradition alongside the Everlys, the Wilsons, the Jacksons, the Carpenters, and so many others. Family was foremost on Barry and Robin Gibb’s mind when creating Mythology, and the Gibb family crest adorns its cover. The collection is a particularly poignant tribute as Barry and Robin called in Maurice Gibb’s widow, Yvonne, and Peta Gibb, daughter of Andy Gibb, to participate. While Andy was never a member of The Bee Gees, his all-too-short recording career was frequently a family affair and he solidifies his credentials as an unofficial Bee Gee here. Mythology is designed in a unique format as each of its four discs is devoted to the core works of one brother. (Many of the Bee Gees’ songs were credited to all three brothers, but each disc selects the songs on which one brother may have stood out in the production, songwriting and/or lead vocal duties.)
The release of Mythology is something of a bittersweet affair. When Warner Music Group’s Rhino arm announced its licensing of the Bee Gees catalogue in 2006, hopes were high. Fans and collectors were rewarded with that year’s release of a deluxe box set. The Studio Albums: 1967-1968 contained expanded mono/stereo editions of the group’s first three “canon” albums with a generous amount of unissued tracks. The promise of more such collections to come was particularly enticing. Then, the 30th anniversary of Saturday Night Fever was bizarrely overlooked. While a remastered edition was released, it contained no additional material or new packaging, hardly the expected treatment for such a landmark recording. After that, a gorgeous boxed set devoted to the Odessa album materialized, but plans have otherwise stalled, excepting a couple of decent greatest hits repackages. Mythology was originally announced for 2009, and has finally arrived after a year’s delay. Was it worth the wait? Hit the jump to find out!
Ostensibly, Mythology replaces Tales of the Brothers Gibb, the Polydor box set released in 1990 and also comprised of four discs. While this new box has the advantage of bringing the Gibbs’ story up to date (The Bee Gees’ final album was 2001’s This is Where I Came In), and offers some previously unreleased material, as well, it still falls short of its predecessor’s lofty heights. Tales of the Brothers Gibb took a more traditional, chronological approach to its material. Because of the Bee Gees’ radically-shifting sound over the years, this format made for a more seamless listening experience. On Mythology, it can’t help but be distracting (and slightly schizophrenic!) to go from “Night Fever” to “Words,” or “Stayin’ Alive” to “Barker of the UFO.” After all, few other groups transformed and reinvented themselves over so many genres: baroque and psychedelic pop/rock, R&B and funk, disco, synth-pop. Each genre was successfully interpreted by the three men with extraordinary voices and unmistakable melodic gifts.
Most disappointingly, Mythology doesn’t offer enough content in its 60-page book. Featuring a number of fine photographs (many in color) and designed after a family album, the only text is in the form of testimonials: from Barry and Robin, from the families of Maurice and Andy, and from a number of colleagues. Those offering well-deserved tributes to The Bee Gees include Burt Bacharach, Elton John, Tom Jones, George Martin, Graham Nash, Olivia Newton-John, Brian Wilson, and some of the artists who found themselves recipients of the Bee Gees’ production prowess, like Dionne Warwick, Frankie Valli and Kenny Rogers. Even current chart-topper Taylor Swift chimes in! There’s nothing wrong with these tributes, but usually they’re supplemental to an essay putting the music into historical perspective, or to track-by-track liner notes. Here, they stand alone. The lack of information relating to the selected songs makes the non-chronological flow even more difficult to digest. (Tales, for its part, wasn’t copiously annotated, but did have welcome track-by-track recollections from the three Bee Gees and a typically entertaining, if too short, essay by David Wild.) The track listing does inform us the album from which each song originated, but there are no catalogue numbers, label or chart information.
That major frustration aside, the music’s the thing, and Mythology offers 81 blissful tracks recorded over a nearly 40-year period. Most of the hits are here, yet the now-standard “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and “Lonely Days,” the group’s first American chart-topper, are inexcusably missing, not to mention “You Should Be Dancing.” The box is a bit top-heavy with familiar songs, however, as Barry Gibb’s disc comes first. Upon discovering his falsetto, Barry led the group head-first into the disco era, and all of those glorious Saturday Night Fever tracks are here: “Stayin’ Alive,” “Night Fever,” “How Deep is Your Love,” “More Than a Woman.” Those would have been enough to guarantee the group’s immortality, but their contribution to popular music is even more staggering when you consider “To Love Somebody,” “Too Much Heaven” (Brian Wilson’s favorite Bee Gees record), “Love So Right,” and “Words.” All of those songs are more are on Disc 1. This disc, and indeed the box set, might have really stood out if Barry’s outside productions had been included on a separate disc, such as “Guilty” with Barbra Streisand, “Heartbreaker” for Dionne Warwick, “Chain Reaction” for Diana Ross and “Emotion” for Samantha Sang. Only “Heartbreaker” appears in the 2001 version first issued on The Record.
The yin to Barry Gibb’s yang may be Robin Gibb, represented on Disc 2. Robin and Barry may have clashed as often as Oasis’ Gallagher brothers, not to mention those Everlys, but when they joined forces, there was no more beautiful sound. Robin’s disc is as exciting as his brother’s, albeit with less of a disco/R&B influence. Robin’s indelible lead vocals tie all of these songs together. “New York Mining Disaster 1941” is among the most haunting Bee Gees records ever, and took on a particular significance following the harrowing events of 9/11. “Holiday” and Massachusetts” are among the most notable of the songs created during the band’s late-sixties period, in which they imbued often-surreal, psychedelic songs to heavenly Beatlesque harmonies. “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” defied chart logic as a smash hit about a man on Death Row, while “I Started a Joke” attained similar hit status despite its cryptic lyric. The list of highlights could go on and on, but “Run to Me,” “I Can’t See Nobody” and Robin’s solo “Saved by the Bell” are all classics; “Islands in the Stream” caps the disc in a 2001 group rendition, rather than in the hit version produced for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.
It must have been a trickier proposition to assemble Disc 3, dedicated to the works of Maurice Gibb. Robin’s twin brother Maurice was an expert arranger, both instrumentally and of the irreplaceable harmony vocals, and played a variety of instruments. Maurice was responsible for the piano on “Lonely Days” or “Words,” but he also frequently played bass and contributed melodically to the brothers’ compositions. Maurice’s disc is in many ways the most interesting, as it doesn’t rely on radio staples or familiar album tracks. There are hidden gems to be discovered, such as his solo songs “Railroad” and the lovely “Hold Her in Your Hand,” a country-esque ballad with a spare arrangement allowing his vocals to wonderfully shine. “You Know It’s For You” from 1972’s To Whom It May Concern is an enjoyable slice of archetypal 1970s pop. There are also two unreleased tracks, the modern, danceable “Angel of Mercy” and “The Bridge,” which closes out Disc 3 with the words, “You’ll never be far away.” For the legions of Bee Gees fans, that sentiment certainly rings true of Maurice Gibb.
Mythology’s final disc is devoted to Andy Gibb, the youngest brother who died in 1988 at the age of 30. Andy found success quickly; “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” was his first single outside of Australia, and the Barry-written song shot to America’s No. 1 spot in 1977, with “(Love is) Thicker Than Water” another No. 1 success from the Flowing Rivers LP. (In fact, it actually replaced “Stayin’ Alive” atop the American charts, only to be displaced itself by “Night Fever.” At least they kept it all in the family!) The following year, Andy and Barry reteamed for the title track of “Shadow Dancing,” which was written by all four Gibb brothers; when it reached pole position, Andy became the first male solo artist to have three consecutive No. 1 singles! The Shadow Dancing album also offered “An Everlasting Love” and Barry and Blue Weaver’s stunning “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away.” Both went Top 10. As Andy Gibb’s solo catalogue has long been out-of-print, this ironically may be the box’s most welcome disc; it also functions as the best single-disc anthology of the youngest Gibb’s career. Only his hit revival of “All I Have to Do is Dream” with actress Victoria Principal is frustratingly still absent. One previously unreleased track, “Arrow Through the Heart,” written by Andy with Barry and Maurice, makes its first appearance on disc here. Andy’s tracks, often with vocal support from his brothers, fit in seamlessly with The Bee Gees’.
Musically speaking, there’s no two ways about it: this collection is a fitting encapsulation of 50 years of one of rock’s most enduring families, even if a handful of songs have been egregiously omitted. But fans of the Gibbs’ great legacy deserve an accompanying book on par with those afforded by Rhino for so many other artists, with discographical information and historical detail putting their mighty career into context. Of course, the most valuable tribute to the Bee Gees would be a continuation of the album reissue campaign; so many seminal LPs (and even a number of unreleased ones!) remain unavailable and deserve the classic Rhino treatment, even if on the Handmade label. Meanwhile, if Mythology isn’t “Too Much Heaven,” it’s at least within striking distance.