The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart


‘…tells their story with care, detail and affection…’

With the possible exception of Queen, I can’t think of a less fashionable band to have liked as a teenager than The Bee Gees. Anyone caught with a freshly bought LP of the toothsome trio at my school would have the packaging ripped apart in the playground to shouts of ‘poly-bag week’; thus was the rule of law when it came to taste in music. I didn’t have any idea at the time that The Bee Gees had been around for more than a decade before their defining moment with the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, and this HBO documentary by Frank Marshall stretches the timeline to ensure that that moment is seen as both the pinnacle and the trough of their creative careers.

“Meaningless Songs in Very High Voices’ was the parody by The Hee Bee Gee Bees which charted when I was at school; this doc reaches beyond such snap impressions to show Robin, Barry and Maurice starting out with ambition and drive, recording hit after hit, but losing their mojo and heading to Miami to re-invent their sound in the mid-70’s. The tracks they contributed to John Badham’s ground-breaking disco film changed music, but also nailed their own development to the fast fading trend of disco. The immediate backlash against dance-music, described here as a ‘racist, homophobic book-burning’, forced the Bee Gees to vanish, although their song-writing created hit after hit including Woman in Love, Islands in the Stream, Chain Reaction, Heartbreaker and more.

While we await the Bradley Cooper movie on this subject, Marshall’s film follows the time-line exposed on the trailer; success, reinvention, ignominy, a secret come-back by stealth. There’s little time for projects like their soundtrack for Alan Parker’s Melody, not even mentioned here, and the focus is very much on the band’s relationship to pop culture rather to each other; Robin, Maurice and little brother Andy all had well-documented issues which are not explored in much detail here. The birth of tracks like Staying Alive are covered with Messianic zeal, but solo material barely rates a mention is dispatches. There is, I guess, only so much Bee Gees one can fit into two hours, and the rest is available elsewhere for those inspired to investigate.

From the plangent title downwards, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart has a specific mission, which is to re-habilitate the reputation of the band from the notion that they were defined by their flirtation with disco, and that mission is accomplished here. There’s a lot of waffle from Justin “I’m not high’ Timberlake, Coldplay and Oasis, but not enough insight into a band which seemed to change identity with the times; it’s perhaps not surprising that their songs were such great fits for artists with established personas and reputations, and a throwaway line about ‘writing as a woman’ begs a more creative investigation. But as a greatest hits package, Marshall’s film takes the obvious route forward, and doesn’t fumble the touchdown; the hits don’t lie, The Bee Gees were a phenomenon, and Marshall’s film tells their story with care, detail and affection.

Many thanks to NBCUniversal for access to this film. Link and trailer below.


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  1. I’ve followed the Bee Gees for decades including before the disco days. Their catalogue is second to none but the lack of respect they’ve been given over the years is very unfortunate. Look up top 100 songwriter or hits and they’ll barely be mentioned. But if you objectively review and assess their vocals and songwriting skills they have few peers other than McCarty and Lennon.

    • Totally agree. This film explores that back-catalogue, but I’d love to have spent twice the time exploring the wealth of great songs they wrote for other people, quite remarkable…

      • great point. Their work during the 80’s and even the 90’s was some of their best work but was never commercially a success, except in Germany. The maturity in their songs, from lyrics to musical arrangement, was exceptional. Songs like Alone, Paying the Price of Love, You Win Again, One, When He’s Gone… I could go on, but they didn’t get much, if any, airplay in North America. There are videos on YouTube where people review Bee Gee songs for their first time, and their reaction is amazing. Those who only consider the Bee Gees based on their high falsetto (which is still great) are missing the rest of their phenomenal contributions to music.

        • At least You Win Again was a huge hit in the UK. It’s ironic that some people saw them as a novelty because of their singing style; it’s the writing which really stands the test of time…

  2. I remember only too well the The Hee Bee Gee Bees, possibly the only time a band has been spoofed with such obvious delight. They are in the second layer of the pop-rock pantheon but deserve a place there for longevity as well as creativity. All post-60s stars had to change with the times. Sinatra and Elvis stuck to their well-trodden paths but the Stones and Bowie all flirted with different music trends and I guess if they had stuck together long enough the Beatles would have, too. Sounds very interesting anyway.

    • There’s a brief shot of a working man’s club where the Gibb brothers are playing, and the main attraction is The Barron Knights. It’s that kind of detail that keeps me interested!

  3. Oh, my, that bushy hair is one thing, but the tan and teeth remind me of Berlusconi 😉
    I can’t say I was ever or will ever be a fan – they always sounded a bit like Alvin and the chipmunks to me… But I guess we’re riding high on the 80’s nostalgia wave, so why not 70’s?

  4. I am not a fan of disco music nor do I know enough about it, but it seems rather a snap decision to dismiss the whole “genre” (what DO you call the various types of music anyway?) as “racist, homophobic and book burning”. I wonder what the directors based that on anyway? If anything, I always figured the Village People would be first in line for Disco Revival.

    Can you explain the little school scene you talk about? Would bullies steal the LP and trash it? And what does “poly-bag week” mean?

    • The school bullies would rip the polythene bag so that your musical taste would be exposed. I think that phrase in quotes refers specifically to the mass burning of disco albums in the late 70’s, rather than a specific genre. But yes, the Village People were also victims of the backlash against disco; there’s usually a backlash against anything hugely popular, like your blog.

      • Thanks for explaining. I wasn’t quite old enough, or money’ed enough, to be able to buy lp’s. I got into cassettes in the late 80’s, early 90’s.

        Gotcha. I read that sentence as the producers saying that Dance Music itself was “blah, blah, blah”. Reading it this way makes a LOT more sense.

        I know, I know. The powers that be, namely the scum at wordpress, are really trying to ruin my life with lots of little things. Like forcing me to double like every comment…

        • My first thought was that you and fraggle had swapped avatars…in ye olden days, we’d borrow LP’s and copy them onto cassettes. Hence you brought your music into school. Primitive times…

          • Is the avatar swap happening on your site AND mine then?
            Nevermind. Just saw you are on your phone, which means it’s the *expletive* app. I swear, the app is the worst thing ever!

            How did you record them onto cassette?

            • So this comment from you, when I first read it, has got fraggles avatar on it. No idea why. Very funny.

              Yup, record players used to have tape attachments so you could convert your lp records to cassettes…very high tech! Then you could listen on your penny farthing…

              • And I just read another blog I follow where the person was having lots of problems this morning and she is using the app too. I think WP is trying to kill the app. Even though the whole point of the damned block editor was to make sites more palatable for app use. Sigh.

                Kind of like how cassette players eventually let you record to your computer. good times indeed.

  5. I saw the documentary yesterday and I liked it, but I saw one years back called This is where I came in that I liked more because it covered more, i seem to remember it covered their other albums after those years where they were writing for other people. Great band and it was a moving film hearing Barry talk about his brothers.

    • I’m in the middle of reviewing Mike Hodges’ Pulp, and composing an entire paragraph about Michael Caine’s game-changing barnet, which has a similar strong look to the one rocked by Robin Gibb in this picture…

      • It was the style of the time, for sure. Look at Donald Sutherland’s mop in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Even the director thought it might have been too much.

        • I may take a cursory look at that as a side-mission in my thesis; Michael Caine’s hair length as a indicator of the strength of his cinematic performance.

          • So, it’s Fraggle’s avatar, not Alex’s. Worth checking out his blog for the latest thinking on Michael Caine’s hair…

          • Alex only wishes he could grow a mullet, or look half as shaggy as the lion kings of the BeeGees. Instead, he’s somewhere between Jean-Luc Picard (on a good day) and Pluto from the original Hills Have Eyes (on a bad one). Much closer to Pluto, most of the time.

            • Hey Alex, have you been hijacked, or are you writing about yourself in the third person? Either way, hair or no hair, all comments are welcome! It’s not an option for most of us to have the leonine manes of the Gibb brothers…

                • I’ve had the same hair color (grey) and style since I was a teenager. It’s just stuff that grows out of your head. Plenty of great baldies in cinema, now there’s a quiz idea; domes.

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