RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
When Robin Gibb died yesterday, it had been nearly a half century since he and his brothers the Bee Gees put out their first single. Robin, along with Barry and Morris Gibb, went on to dominate the airwaves during the late 1970s, and their songs defined the disco era. With their distinct vocal harmonies, the Bee Gees had a musical run of success that included dozens of hit songs. Robin Gibb had cancer. He was 62. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this remembrance.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: The Bee Gees might be forever linked to the 1970s, in the era of polyester outfits and blow-dried hair, thanks to the songs they wrote and performed for the movie "Saturday Night Fever."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAYIN' ALIVE")
BEE GEES: (Singing) We can try to understand The New York Times' effect on man. Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother, you're stayin' alive, stayin' alive...
BLAIR: But disco didn't make the Bee Gees - hardly. Their vocal harmonies and song writing skills were popular a decade earlier. This is Robin Gibb and Barry Gibb, his older brother, singing lead vocals on one of their early hits.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK MINING DISASTER 1941")
GEES: (Singing) In the event of something happening to me, there is something I would like you all to see...
BLAIR: Robin, Maurice and Barry Gibb were born on the Isle of Man. Later the family moved to Australia. Their father was a dance band leader. Growing up, the Gibb brothers were big fans of close harmony by The Mills Brothers and The Everly Brothers. When they were big stars, the Bee Gees would occasionally perform "Lollipop," one of their favorites when they were kids.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOLLIPOP")
GEES: (Singing) Lollipop, lollipop, oh lolli lolli lolli, lollipop, lollipop. Oh lolli lolli lolli. Lollipop, lollipop, oh lolli lolli lolli, lollipop, my lollipop.
BLAIR: Robin Gibb came across as the more serious of the three Bee Gees. He himself said he was the shyest. And many of the songs on which he sings lead have a melancholy tone.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MASSACHUSETTS")
GEES: (Singing) Feel I'm going back to Massachusetts. Something is telling me I must go home...
BLAIR: Over the decades the Bee Gees had many ups and downs, personally and professionally. In 1969 they broke up. Robin Gibb said their sibling squabbles were exacerbated by their individual ambitions.
ROBIN GIBB: That was a period where we had tremendous egos for success, where we just stopped talking to each other. We had people saying that you're responsible for the success of the group, and he's successful. So we all had our own sort of court.
BLAIR: During the split, Robin Gibb recorded a solo album but eventually he and his brothers realized they were better together than apart. Yes, they were.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JIVE TALKIN'")
GEES: (Singing) It's just your jive talkin'. You're telling me lies. Jive talkin', you wear a disguise. Jive...
BLAIR: The Bee Gees' music and "Saturday Night Fever" came to define the late 1970s. And it's among the bestselling soundtracks of all time. In a documentary about the Bee Gees, the longtime producer of The Beatles, Sir George Martin, said the Gibb brothers were adept songwriters.
SIR GEORGE MARTIN: I think there's an affinity between the Bee Gees and The Beatles, particularly with their earlier material, in the linking of very good hooks, very good melodies which stick in the mind. And that within itself is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONELY DAYS")
GEES: (Singing) Lonely days, lonely nights, where will I be without my woman? Lonely...
BLAIR: The Gibb family suffered a number of personal tragedies. The Bee Gees younger brother Andy Gibb died when he was just 30 years old. And Robin's twin Maurice passed away in 2003.
Before Robin Gibb died, he continued to work with family. He and his son wrote "The Titanic Requiem." It premiered with the Royal Philharmonic.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TITANIC REQUIEM")
GIBB: (Singing) If your heart is breaking, I'm yours whatever. I will not forsake you ever. Don't cry alone...
BLAIR: Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NIGHT FEVER")
GEES: (Singing) Listen to the ground. There is movement all around. There is something going down...
MONTAGNE: And this is NPR News.