Robin Gibb (1949-2012)
By all means skip the first 58 seconds to get to the Bee Gees singing Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," apparently in 1963 (the year after the song was written), when Barry turned 17 and fraternal twins Maurice (who died in 2003) and Robin were pushing 14.
I'm way out of my element with any kind of remembrance of Robin Gibb, and wouldn't even attempt such a thing except for two circumstance
* a friend's pass-along of the above clip of the Bee Gees covering Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," a song I can relate to as a just plain good song (and which can take on some interestingly different musical values arranged for a vocal trio), and --
* an appreciation of Robin G by The New Yorker's Scott Staton originally posted on the magazine's Culture Desk blog on April 20, when the subject was lying comatose, now appropriately updated, which begins this way:
April 20, 2012
ROBIN GIBB’S BEAUTIFUL WARBLE
Posted by Scott Staton
Updated: Robin Gibb died on Sunday, May 20th, at the age of sixty-two.
It's odd to regard one of the best-selling recording artists of all time as an acquired taste, but many listeners find the music of the brothers Gibb, better known as the British (by way of Australia) band the Bee Gees, hard to connect with. Their songs are widespread enough that a lack of familiarity isn't the issue. The long arc of their career, from the syrupy melodrama of their late-sixties pop/rock period through their white soul metamorphosis into disco icons, is a triumph of reinvention to some, an exercise in kitsch to others, and simply inscrutable to the rest.
To these last I offer something of a Rosetta Stone: the relatively overlooked Robin Gibb, whose singularly quavering voice was the emotional centerpiece of the band. At this moment, he is sadly lying comatose in a London hospital with pneumonia, following a recent battle with colon and liver cancer. His illness has occasioned a wellspring of goodwill, but missing in the outpouring of sympathy is a clear sense of what made his role in the group so special.
I unexpectedly learned to appreciate the Bee Gees through Robin's contributions. Alongside his elder brother Barry and his fraternal twin Maurice, Robin was the improbable one: awkward, buck-toothed and gawky, with an unruly mop of bouffant hair. In contrast, Barry (he of the piercing falsetto that would characterize later recordings) was a natural front man -- handsome, tall, and assured.
The brothers were initially marketed as young, wholesome rivals to the Beatles, but there was something of the misfit about Robin. He was only seventeen when the Bee Gees released their first international album, in 1967. He split lead-vocal duties with Barry and was featured on the single “Holiday,” an emotive minor-key composition that unfolds from a dirge-like wisp into full-fledged chamber pop:
[AUDIO CLIP OF "HOLIDAY"]
Lacking the elder Gibb's physical charisma, Robin's tremulous voice nevertheless exuded its own magnetism, showcased on subsequent hits “Massachusetts” and “I Started a Joke”:
[AUDIO CLIPS OF "MASSACHUSETTS" AND "I STARTED A JOKE"]
One might expect that the morbid hysterics of the latter would make it a poor candidate for the hit parade, but it reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. Guileless and vulnerable, irrepressibly melancholic, Robin's distinctive voice was the vaguely unbalanced element that kept the listener on edge.
I grew up with the Bee Gees' early and later recordings among my parents' records, but I didn't revisit the earlier albums until a little over a decade ago, when I reached the conclusion that the group was at its best when Robin's warbly tenor was dominant. This idea had apparently struck him as well. In 1969, high on the wave of what Barry would call their “first fame,” the band recorded their most self-consciously artistic statement: “Odessa,” a double-album song cycle about shipwreck and dashed romance, encased in a red-velvet sleeve. Robin took it as his moment to shine, and he was in full adenoidal operatic splendor on the epic opener, “Odessa (City on the Black Sea)”
[AUDIO CLIP OF "ODESSA (CITY ON THE BLACK SEA)"]
There's a good deal more, but I'll leave you to check that out onsite.