The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (2020)
March 17, 2021 1:57 PM - Subscribe

An exploration of the history of the Bee Gees, featuring revealing interviews with oldest brother Barry Gibb, and archival interviews with the late twin brothers Robin and Maurice. - IMDB. Trailer at HBO, YouTube, and Amazon.

Blessed with the Bee Gees' discography and director Frank Marshall's concise thesis, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is a poignant documentary that persuasively argues the trio's importance in music history. - Rotten Tomatoes [96% on the Tomatometer / 93% audience score]

The three British white boys who grew up in Australia played a big part in the crossover of disco in America from Black and gay subcultures into the mainstream. But when disco was declared dead, its execution staged at a 1979 demolition night in Chicago's Comiskey Park attended by tens of thousands that now looks like a fascist book-burning, the backlash hit them hard. The trio who had decreed "You Should Be Dancing," were suddenly pariahs, exiled from radio play. There were even bomb threats at their live gigs.

Marshall's densely packed documentary shows how much broader the Bee Gees' footprint is in popular music history. More than just a disco phenomenon, they were gifted, incredibly prolific songwriters across a number of genres — the end credits note that they penned more than 1,000 songs, including 20 No. 1 hit singles in the U.S. and U.K. Their collaborative synergy was such that their songs were often written directly in the recording studio; at one point in the 1960s they released three albums in the space of a single year. -- The Hollywood Reporter, film review

To say that the Gibb brothers blended together with seamless perfection wouldn’t do the sound they created justice. United by a silky timbre that was in their DNA, those voices, crooning and soaring, often into the higher register, fused as gorgeously as the colors of a rainbow. - ‘The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’ Review: The Enthralling Documentary They Deserve, Variety, with videos & a page of Spotify and Apple playlists
"New York Mining Disaster 1941" is the debut American single by the British-Australian pop group the Bee Gees, released on 14 April 1967
"Massachusetts," 1967 French TV performance; "To Love Somebody," 1967 TV performance
"To Love Somebody," Nina Simone performing in Juan-Les-Pins, Antibes, 1969
"To Love Somebody," performed by Janis Joplin on The Dick Cavett Show, 1969
"How Can You Mend a Broken Heart," Al Green's 1972 Live on Soul! performance, and his album version
"How Deep is Your Love," Bee Gees, 1977; Johnny Mathis 1978 cover; Donny Osmond 2007 cover; Bee Gees 1998 live acapella version
"If I Can't Have You," 1977 American Bandstand and 1978 The Midnight Special performances by Yvonne Elliman
"Shadow Dancing," performed by Andy Gibb in 1978; Foo Fighters cover earlier this month
"Woman in Love," performed by Barbara Streisand, 1980
"Islands In the Stream" (Official Audio), performed by Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers, 1982
100 Top 10 Hits Written by the Bee Gees highlight reel...
Bee Gees - Musical Evolution (1960-2016)
A&E Live by Request, Special Edition, 2001
posted by Iris Gambol (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I loved this. Could've done without the Justin Timberlake, and they sure glossed over some less flattering moments, but I loved it anyway.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:19 PM on March 17, 2021 [2 favorites]


That alternate version of Stayin' Alive, at the film's start, nearly wrecked me.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:25 PM on March 17, 2021

(Needs a rockumentary tag!)
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:26 AM on March 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

posted by Iris Gambol at 10:55 AM on March 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I thought Chris Martin was kind of a meh choice for a talking head as well. I mean, he said perfectly reasonable things, but...I'm sorry, is he particularly relevant? I think they were going for "grab someone from every possible generation grouping" but Mr. Gallagher more than covers Gen X, gets the "infamous brothers" angle in there, and was funny to boot.

Anyhoo, I was not expecting to love this documentary as much as I did. It even invoked some nostalgia for the...look/sound/atmosphere of my childhood?! (Which is not a thing that I usually have much of.) But the Bee Gees were such a big part of the background sound of the late 70s at a perfectly impressionable age for me. I remember that their older hits were a staple of the easy listening stations favored by the neighborhood middle-aged ladies who babysat me, at the same time that my friend's older brothers were excited about the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack.
posted by desuetude at 1:20 PM on March 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think Martin was there as a modern-day musician gladly influenced by/admiring of the band, & he's friends with Barry Gibb. (Gibb was Coldplay's special guest at Glastonbury in 2016)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:55 PM on March 18, 2021

I loved this and am glad they paid proper attention to their Sixties period, which is fantastic but often overshadowed by their later success—I imagine many who watched didn’t even realize they had a career prior to disco.

I did find it strange that it completely omitted the disastrous Sgt Pepper film, though. Granted, I wouldn’t be eager to talk about it either, but it was certainly a factor in their fall from grace.
posted by kaisemic at 2:45 PM on March 18, 2021

I thought Chris Martin was kind of a meh choice for a talking head as well. I mean, he said perfectly reasonable things, but...

Yeah, that struck me as weird too, particularly his sticks-and-stones comment that (paraphrasing from memory) "bands of my generation understand about backlash" because wait what now? you were famously wounded by Alan McGee calling you bedwetters.

I liked this a lot too; particularly that it didn't shy away from pointing out the racist undertones of Disco Demolition. But yes: there's a whole lot of addiction being glossed over quickly; and the Sgt. Pepper movie is completely vanished.

Barry Gibb's present-day interview threaded through it becomes more and more melancholy towards the end as it becomes clearer that he's the last surviving brother of a close life-long collaboration; and the ending is hearbreaking:
I can't honestly come to terms with the fact that they're not here anymore.

Never been able to do that. I'm always reliving it. It's always, "What would Robin think?" or, "What would Maurice think?" And Andy. It never goes away.

And what I wanted to say earlier is that I'd rather have 'em all back here, no hits at all.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:51 PM on March 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

> I liked this a lot too; particularly that it didn't shy away from pointing out the racist undertones of Disco Demolition.

Yes, I appreciated that. It's an interesting contrast to the way "Disco sucks!" is covered in the Twisted Sister rockumentary, where they don't exactly gloss over the racism but also don't acknowledge their part in it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:41 PM on March 18, 2021

This is going to be more vulgar than I intend, but kindly bear with me? I knew about the racist and homophobic foundations to the insecure-straight-white-guy disco backlash; after watching the documentary, I also realized: you idiots, the Bee Gees were trying to get you LAID. But you couldn't you get out of your own way and let them.

Their music gathered young, thin (today's men seeking women, specifying "fit" and "takes care of [herself]" in their online wish lists, are masters of subtlety compared to their predecessors), straight ladies, who were already looking to have a good time, in a highly physical environment where alcohol and all manner of substances flowed freely. All you knuckleheads had to do was show up, and have halfway decent manners. If a man chatted you up, and you politely declined, that fellow was likely to introduce you to a dozen of his female friends. Entitled straight guys, you didn't even have to know how to dance, ffs, it was A+++ for effort for simply showing up. (There's an abundance of female dancers mad for their non-dancing male significant others. They're ridiculously appreciative if the guy deigns to sway for five minutes, maybe once every five years, during some reception's dinner-hour slow jam.)

The idea of going to a club, and the risk of women with the gall to look you over the exact same way you look them over, too much to bear? Well, the Bee Gees also have a handy selection of yearning ballads, for non-ironic lyric referencing and mixtape needs. And at little to no cost to you, because their music is ALWAYS ON THE RADIO.

The Brothers Gibb were the best wing men hapless heterosexual guys could wish for, and you were such fucking ingrates.

Speaking of their slower songs, at around the 35-minute mark of this 1997 concert, Barry introduces "Our Love (Don't Throw It All Away)" with, "This is our song for Andy." Home movies of the youngest Gibb play on the giant screen behind the band (incl. footage from Andy's wedding; I remembered his romance with Victoria Principal, I'd forgotten that, as per Gibb tradition, he'd married, and started a family, very young), which flow into clips of Andy in concert (solo, and with his brothers). And at some point, an excellent recording of Andy singing lead on "Our Love" begins, and his brothers, on stage, are seamlessly harmonizing his backing vocals.

4 am this morning, and I'm crying on a jigsaw puzzle. It doesn't help that the song has lyrics like, "You alone are the living thing that keeps me alive," and
"How can you leave and let this feeling die / This happy room will be a lonely place when you are gone/(And I) And I won't even have your shoulder for the crying on," and
"This losing you is real / But I still feel you here inside."
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:42 PM on March 19, 2021 [5 favorites]

I had no particular opinion of Chris Martin, but hearing him intro the special guest at Glastonbury with, "We can do one better, we can bring on an actual Bee Gee. Here comes Mr. Barry Gibb; let's be respectful," like he was going to dive off the stage to slap* anyone rude? Now, I think Martin's kinda okay.

(*Maybe the sensitive singer-songwriter thing's a sham, and young Martin had a promising boxing career, but gave it up to preserve his hands for guitar.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:44 PM on March 19, 2021

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