Few acts have been so lucky to help define an era of music, much less do it twice. But the Bee Gees managed to not only solidify themselves as folk/rock/pop sensations, but revamp themselves by turning to disco and helping push forward an entire new genre.
Brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb brought their extraordinarily tight, three-part harmonies all over the world, creating some of the most instantly recognizable voices in modern music. While many might associate the Bee Gees with a certain era, the best of their wide-ranging discography incorporated everything from fascinating storytelling, feel-good funkiness, haunting harmonies and much more. Here are 10 Bee Gees songs that define the wide-ranging world of Britain’s first family of harmony.
10. Bee Gees – “Too Much Heaven”
One of the Bee Gees’ most recognizable singles, also happens to be one that helped out those in need. While “Too Much Heaven” saw the brother band leaning more towards R&B style, the track is also notable for the fact that the band promised to donate all the royalties they received from it to United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, a.k.a. UNICEF. The soothing track helped the band donate more than $7 million to the charity and was recognized by then-president Jimmy Carter.
9. Bee Gees – “Massachusetts”
While California was being romanticized as a final destination for the hippie generation, the Bee Gees took an opposing viewpoint with “Massachusetts.” Here, the song’s subject had joined the flower-power movement and traveled to San Francisco, only to want to return to the East Coast despite the fact that “the lights all went down in Massachsetts.”
8. Bee Gees – “Night Fever”
Getting John Travolta flashbacks, yet? “Night Fever” is the subtle-yet-strong disco single that changed the course of iconic 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever — it was originally titled Saturday Night, but the band insisted the title was not good and the idea of their song “Night Fever” was incorporated into the title. The orchestra-inspired, string synthesizers became a staple of the disco era with help from this Hot 100 No. 1 hit.
7. Bee Gees – “New York Mining Disaster 1941”
For many Americans, “New York Mining Disaster 1941” was their initial introduction to the Bee Gees as the 1967 single marked one of the band’s first international hits. The sound was extremely inspired by The Beatles — with many radio listeners thinking it was The Beatles — but highlighted the brothers’ knack for vivid, multidimensional storytelling as song the itself seems to grow slower as it goes on, possibly indicating less and less hope (or oxygen) coming to the miners talking to one another in the titular disaster.
6. Bee Gees – “How Deep Is Your Love”
A beloved Bee Gee ballad, the song has been one of the industry’s favorites to cover with the likes of Luther Vandross, Sia, Michael Bublé, Kelly Rowland, PJ Morton, and Take That all recording versions — the lattermost artist taking it to No. 1 in the UK nearly two decades after the original. No surpise why: Its swaying feel and melodies stood strong against the disco and dance tracks on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Barry Gibb even told Billboard that “How Deep Is Your Love” is his No. 1 favorite Bee Gees song.
5. Bee Gees – “Words”
An early, poignant single from the band highlighting the band’s penchant for relatable, poetic lyrics in the late-’60s single: “You think I don’t even mean a single word I say? / It’s only words / And words are all I have / To take your heart away.”
4. Bee Gees – “Tragedy”
From the slightly psychedelic sound to Barry’s elongated belts — along with a lightning crack that was famously created by the band’s lead singer cupping his hands over the microphone and simulating thunder — this Bee Gees song utilized unexpected, atypical vocal and production elements and still wound up being a Hot 100 No. 1 hit. Even at their most innovative, the guys were undeniable hitmakers.
3. Bee Gees – “Stayin Alive”
With the feel-good funky groove, “Stayin’ Alive” is as much a disco staple as it is an empowerment anthem. Written for Saturday Night Fever, “Stayin’ Alive” marks one of the greatest modern-day movie songs ever as well one to celebrate survival through tough times: “Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother / You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive / Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’ / And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”
2. Bee Gees – “I’ve Got to Get a Message to You”
The best reflection of the Bee Gees’ extraordinary style of storytelling is with this 1968 single. Telling a story of a man on death row, about to meet his fate, about to meet his fate and begging someone (His executioner? His security guard? His lawyer?) to send a letter to his lover before he dies. If it sounds grim, the brothers’ harmonies make the story sound lovely and hauntingly hopeful, making it all the more fascinating of a pop song.
1. Bee Gees – “You Should Be Dancing”
The song that officially launched The Bee Gees into disco is a masterpiece that appeals to all kinds of music fans. At its core, “You Should Be Dancing” boasts an undeniable groove that sounded fresh throughout subsequent decades. But this Bee Gees song stands out for folding in elements of the group’s past sounds while moving them forward in an exciting new direction. Ominous and echoing harmonies, bursts of powerful electric guitar chords, peppy horn blasts, and that undeniable chorus ultimately make this a classic that lived long beyond Saturday Night Fever, the entire disco era, and continues to thrive in music history today.