Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 28, 2018)
40 years after the fact, it can be tough to remember how omnipresent the Bee Gees were in the aftermath of the hugely successful Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. In March 1978, the Bee Gees wrote and/or performed five of the US top 10 singles, a parallel to a feat not accomplished since the Beatles had all of the top five singles in spring 1964.
Indeed, the Bee Gees’ popularity drew multiple comparisons to the fame of the Fabs years earlier – comparisons that became more inevitable when the Bee Gees starred in 1978’s ill-fated Sgt. Pepper’s movie. That didn’t go well, and it started the Bee Gees’ popular decline.
The band’s momentum remained high enough for 1979’s Spirits Having Flown to become a major hit – with three US number one singles – but as the 1980s rolled around, the wheels came off the bus. 1981’s Living Touch flopped, and the Bee Gees never quite got back on track.
1983’s Staying Alive soundtrack did reasonably well, and 1997’s Still Waters marked a decent comeback. Nonetheless, clearly their salad days remained back in the 1970s.
Their second release since Staying Alive, 1989’s One didn’t change the Bee Gees’ commercial fortunes, but it got them back on the road for their first full tour in a decade. We get a look at this show via One For All Tour: Live in Australia.
Shot at Melbourne’s National Tennis Center circa November 1989, All boasts a setlist from across the band’s long career. One provides the title track, “Ordinary Lives”, “Tokyo Nights”, “House of Shame” and “It’s My Neighborhood”. 1987’s ESP offers “You Win Again” and “Giving Up the Ghost”.
Despite its status as the Bee Gees’ last major hit, 1979’s Spirits Having Flown boasts only “Too Much Heaven”, and 1977’s Saturday Night Fever soundtrack brings just “How Deep Is Your Love” and “Stayin’ Alive”. 1976’s Children of the World contributes “You Should Be Dancing”.
From there, 1975’s Main Course delivers “Jive Talkin’” and “Nights On Broadway”. 1972’s To Whom It May Concern features “Run to Me”, and 1971’s Trafalgar offers “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”. 1970’s Two Years On brings “Lonely Days”.
1968 boasted two Bee Gees albums, and Horizontal posts “Massachusetts” and “World”, while Idea spots “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You” and “I Started a Joke”. “Words” was also a non-album 1968 single.
Actually their third album, 1967’s Bee Gees 1st brings “To Love Somebody”, “Holiday” and “New York Mining Disaster 1941”. The band’s debut, 1966’s Spicks and Specks includes the title song. We also get “covers” of songs Barry Gibb gave to others: “Heartbreaker” and “Islands in the Stream”, and “Juliet” was a 1983 solo single from Robin Gibb.
Perhaps because I was a kid in the mid-late 1970s, I’m firmly a fan of “disco Bee Gees”, and I admit I don’t much care for their work pre-1975 or post-1979. I own a career-spanning four-CD Bee Gees boxed set and almost never play anything other than Disc Three, the one with the dance songs.
Believe me, I’ve tried to embrace the other tunes, but I can’t do it – 1960s Bee Gees just seem maudlin, mawkish and over-emotive. Because of this, the One For All setlist acts as something of a disappointment because it semi-negates the band’s 1975-1979 run.
This seems to have been a conscious choice. Honestly, I can’t think of a logical explanation for the omission of hits like “Night Fever” or “Tragedy” other than a desire by the Bee Gees to distance themselves from their “disco years”.
Which makes some sense given the backlash they encountered in the early 1980s. In truth, disco never really died – it just turned into “dance music” along the lines of Madonna’s early work – but the term “disco” became an epithet, and the Bee Gees were viewed by many as anathema due to their connection to the genre.
This wasn’t fair, and eventually the public saw the value in this material again, but I suspect those backlash-oriented wounds remained raw in 1989. Six songs from four of the band’s most successful albums just seems like a choice to avoid that period.
Because One For All avoids the “disco years” so much, I probably shouldn’t enjoy the concert. To my pleasant surprise, the older material I dislike on record works pretty well live.
Honestly, I think a lot of my disdain for “pre-disco” Bee Gees comes from the whiny vocals. I realize this may cause head-scratching, as the falsettos of the dance years can be nails/chalkboard for many, but I don’t mind those vocals – it’s the bleating, vibrato-heavy older stuff that rubs me the wrong way.
Done live in 1989, Barry, Robin and Maurice largely avoid those old vocal excesses. Because of this, I can enjoy the songs’ strengths better and not find myself put off by the singing.
The older songs also get a little more oomph on stage when divorced from the studio production choices. No, the tunes don’t rock, but they boast a more muscular feel and seem less like music you’d hear in a china teapot store.
As a live band, I can’t claim the Bee Gees seem especially dynamic, and I wish they’d chat more. There’s a rich history there, and it’d be nice to hear them talk a bit about the songs and their career.
Still, they largely deliver the goods as a band, and that’s the most important factor. While One For All Live doesn’t present a killer live show, it represents the music well.
The same goes for director Adrian Woods’ decisions. One For All Live uses a tasteful selection of shot and editing choices that allow us to get a good feel for the show without distracting gimmicks.
All of this leaves One For All Live as a nice representation of the Bee Gees’ performance skills. With a fairly broad set and good performances, it turns into a satisfying product.