A few days after the death of disco queen Donna Summer, we’ve just lost another of the genre’s most important and indelible voices. Singer/songwriter and Bee Gee Robin Gibb passed away today after a long battle with cancer and intestinal surgery. He was 62.
Born on the British Isle of Man, Gibb started singing harmony with his older brother Barry and his fraternal twin Maurice in the late ’50s. After the family relocated to Australia, the three brothers became the Bee Gees, hosting an Australian variety show. When they moved back to England in the mid-’60s, they began recording in earnest, scoring some Beatles-informed folk-pop hits with songs like “New York Mining Disaster 1941″ and “I Started A Joke.”
The group broke up in 1969, with Robin’s out-of-control partying as part of the rift, but he convinced his brothers to reform two years later. In 1975, they moved toward disco with their hit song “Jive Talkin’.” A couple of years after that, their songs like “Staying Alive” and “Night Fever” would dominate the soundtrack to the Brooklyn coming-of-age movie Saturday Night Fever, and that soundtrack album would become one of the biggest sellers of all time.
Though their earlier, folkier material was fairly successful and still has plenty of critical love, the Bee Gees’ disco stuff was far and away their most popular, and I’d argue that it also holds up now. While it wasn’t as frantic and euphoric as the harder, more soul-based disco of its era, it has a weightless power of its own — lithe, supple grooves, with Barry’s pinched falsetto snapping out huge hooks and the other brothers’ incandescent harmonies gently weaving through the mix.
After the disco era, the Bee Gees remained together for a while, scoring a few more hits and touring before Maurice died in 2003 because of an intestinal issue, one Robin needed surgery to correct a couple of years ago. (There was also a younger brother, the solo singer Andy, who died of a viral infection in 1988. Barry, the oldest Gibb brother, is now the last surviving one.) Robin also did some solo work and appeared alongside Barry a few times, doing things like American Idol with him. This year, Robin debuted an orchestral piece called The Titanic Requiem that he wrote with his son Robin-John, though Robin was too sick to attend its London premiere. Gibb has been battling stomach and liver cancer for the past two years, and he temporarily slipped into a coma.
Below, watch some videos of Robin and the Bee Gees.