In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
It must’ve seemed like it was going to keep going forever. In a year and a half, the Bee Gees had hit #1 with six consecutive singles, something only the Beatles had done previously, and that’s not even counting the hits that the Gibb brothers were writing and producing for other artists. Spirits Having Flown, the album that the group released in the immediate aftermath of the Saturday Night Fever bonanza, turned out to be a blockbuster as well. The LP’s three singles, which were also the first three songs on the album, all made it to the top. And then, after that, nothing. It just stopped.
“Love You Inside Out,” the Bee Gees’ final #1 single, peaked on the charts a few weeks before the Chicago Disco Demolition Night, the event that at least crystallized the long-brewing disco backlash. The Bee Gees had been around before disco, and they’d proven themselves capable of putting together non-disco hits, but it didn’t matter. Presumably thanks to Saturday Night Fever, the Bee Gees had come to represent disco in the public imagination. When disco fell, they fell too. So “Love You Inside Out” goes down in history as the very end of a historic hot streak — the sound of an imperial phase coming to an end.
You can’t actually hear any of that happening in “Love You Inside Out,” of course. The song sounds like the Bee Gees just cruising, ragtop down, voluminous hair blowing in the wind, sun glinting off of unnaturally white teeth. It sounds like confidence. “Love You Inside Out” isn’t even a disco song. It’s a calm, funky little lope, an effortless squiggle. It’s definitely minor Bee Gees, but before the crash, even minor Bee Gees sounded like pure gold.
Lyrically, “Love You Inside Out” is deadly-serious adult stuff. Barry Gibb is in love with someone, but she won’t stop cheating on him. He’s freaking out over what to do, pleading for her to stop, but he’s unwilling to give up on the relationship. “Too many lovers in one lifetime ain’t good for you,” Barry chides. And then he asks for empathy in surprisingly poetic ways: “You treat me like a vision in the night/ Someone there to stand behind you when your world ain’t working right.” We don’t know whether his pleas work, but we do know that Gibb’s narrator is going to stay with this girl whatever she does: “No matter how you hurt me, I will love you till I die.”
But Barry and his brothers don’t deliver this like it’s a desperate request. Instead, they’re loose and playful, their falsettos gently pushing the beat around. On the chorus, they stay just off the beat, and those pauses are essential to the song’s fundamental catchiness: “I’m the man who loves [pause] you [pause] innn-side and out.” The song is so giddy and slaphappy, in fact, that it never even occurred to me that it was anything other than a silly love song until I sat down to write this piece. There’s a disconnect between those words and that delivery. The Bee Gees are just breezing through this thing. They don’t actually seem to care in the slightest whether this woman is cheating or not.
The breeziness is the song’s great strength. All the usual Bee Gees elements are in place: The funky guitar scratches, the expensive-sounding synths, the locked-in rhythm section. But this time, it all comes out slow and unforced. The Bee Gees certainly could do urgent, histrionic drama; they’d done it to great effect on “Stayin’ Alive” and “Tragedy.” But “Love You Inside Out” is more of a breather, as if they’re giving everyone a quick rest in between operatic howls.
After playing basically no live shows during 1978, their true peak year, the Bee Gees spent a good chunk of 1979 on the road in America. “Love You Inside Out” must’ve killed during one of those mid-show energy lulls. Part of me wonders whether the group wrote the song just so that they’d be able to pace their shows out better. “Love You Inside Out” doesn’t sound like something ending. And yet that’s what it was.
Two years after Spirits Having Flown, the Bee Gees released the album Living Eyes, which missed the top 40 entirely. Its two singles, “He’s A Liar” and “Living Eyes,” peaked at #30 and #45, respectively. Considering how overwhelmingly huge the Bee Gees had only just been, that ranks as a sudden and stunning commercial collapse. They never quite made it back, either. The Bee Gees only scored one more Billboard top-10 single after “Love You Inside Out,” and they didn’t even get that until a decade later. (1989’s “One” peaked at #7. It’s a 7.)
Still, the Bee Gees kept touring and recording in the years after that big run finally ended. They continued until Maurice Gibb died of a sudden heart attack in 2003, when he was 53. Maurice’s twin brother Robin followed him in 2012, dying of liver cancer at 62. Today, Barry Gibb is the last Bee Gee left standing. And yet that’s not quite the end of their story. The Bee Gees did not suddenly fade away from pop music when people stopped buying their records. During their chart reign, the Gibb brothers found great side-hustle success writing and producing songs for other artists. They remained huge in that role even after the disco backlash. In that capacity, we will see them again in this column.
BONUS BEATS: For Total’s 1996 album track “When Girl Meets Boy,” producers Sean “Puffy” Combs and the Neptunes sampled “Love You Inside Out.” Here’s that song:
(As lead artists, Total peaked at #7 with their 1998 Missy Elliott collab “Trippin’.” It’s an 8. As guests, Total made it as high as #3 when they appeared on LL Cool J’s “Loungin.” That song is a 6. Puffy and the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams will both appear in this column eventually.)
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Feist’s 2004 cover of “Love You Inside Out” — retitled “Inside And Out” for some reason — was one of her big indie-blog breakthroughs. Here’s her video for it:
(Feist’s highest-charting single, 2007’s “1234,” peaked at #8. It’s a 7.)
BONUS BONUS BONUS BEATS: On Snoop Dogg’s 2005 single “Ups And Downs,” producer Warryn Campbell sampled “Love You Inside Out.” The song credits the Bee Gees as featured artists even though they didn’t actually sing on it. Here’s its video:
(Snoop Dogg will eventually appear in this column.)