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The Bee Gees / Disco Pop

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The Bee Gees / Disco Pop

Barry Gibb’s patented falsetto trills can be heard in Fischerspooner, Har Mar Superstar, Ladytron, while pop acts like the Scissor Sisters and provocateurs like Peaches have used the Bee Gees as a reference point in their wry deconstructions of gender and sexual identities.

Despite actually being born on the Isle of Man (closer to Liverpool), enjoying their initial musical success in Australia, then, later, their greatest commercial success in Los Angeles, the distinct voices of the Gibb brothers were honed and given the stamp of Mancs during the boys’ formative years living in the Chorlton-Cum-Hardy area of Manchester. Hence, though many might prefer I do otherwise, I hereby claim the Bee Gees as a Manchester band.

The Bee Gees’ 40-plus years in the recording industry saw them enjoy top-flight success in separate eras, playing two wholly different genres of music. And though their late ‘60s soft rock period brought them international success and some flattering comparisons to The Beatles, it was their mid-to-late ‘70s disco triumph that gave the band their distinction and ultimate legacy.

If not for the pop-flavored tunes, sweet vocal harmonies, and camp Mancunian accents that have always carried their songs, the Bee Gees would probably have been just another pop or disco group. However, by harnessing both of these genres simultaneously—thanks to their own upbringing in the midst of the Brit-beat scene, as well as the influence of soul producer Arif Mardin who introduced disco rhythms to their writing—the Gibb brothers were able to craft a fusion of forces that shook up the music world and continues to have seismic after-effects to this day.

With songs like “Jive Talkin’” (1975) “Nights on Broadway” (1975), and “Tragedy” (1979), the Bee Gees gave disco the melodic qualities it so often lacked (and for which it was so often criticized for so often lacking). Some would even argue—perhaps negatively—that their idiosyncratic additions made them single-handedly responsible for extending the disco genre way past its sell-by date.

Whatever the merits of disco, however, the Bee Gees’ contributions to it can now be seen to have had far longer-lasting influence than have those from so many other now-forgotten purveyors of the form. Pop disco or disco pop is today an indie rock staple, a camp exercise in nostalgia and post-ironic humor. Barry Gibb’s patented falsetto trills can be heard used by any number of contemporary electroclash acts (e.g., Fischerspooner, Har Mar Superstar, Ladytron), while pop acts like the Scissor Sisters and provocateurs like Peaches have used the Bee Gees as a reference point in their wry deconstructions of gender and sexual identities.

Within the Manchester scene, too, the incantatory dance grooves of Bee Gees disco pop could be heard echoing through the city’s Hacienda club and beyond during the late ‘80s, as Madchester bands from New Order to the Happy Mondays reinvented those cocaine rhythms for the ecstacy generation.

Born in Manchester and raised east of London, Iain Ellis spent his formative years playing, performing, and consuming a heavy diet of punk rock music and football. In 1986, the young man went west to find his dreams in Bowling Green, Ohio. Instead, he picked up a PhD in American Culture Studies, writing his dissertation on 1980s American Punk Culture. In 2000, he traveled further west, settling in Lawrence, Kansas, where he currently teaches English at the University of Kansas and performs in his band The Leotards. You may also enjoy his books, Rebels Wit Attitude: Subversive Rock Humorists and Brit Wits: A History of British Rock Humor.

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