If there’s one band who has experienced image problems during their lifetime, it’s the Bee Gees. Whether it be the big hair, even bigger teeth and white outfits of the late ’70s, their outburst on Clive Anderson’s chat show or Robin Gibb’s decision to be a celebrity judge on the BBC’s ill-fated Fame Academy, their perceived ‘naffness’ has always obscured the fact that they’ve actually written some damn fine songs.
It’s easy to forget just how successful the Brothers Gibb have been. Forming 45 years ago, their career has spanned the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and they’ve clocked up an incredible number of hit singles. This album, as the title suggests, follows similar collections of Elvis Presley and The Beatles by focusing exclusively on the band’s number one hits.
Therefore, this is probably aimed at the casual fan more than anything. The hardcore aficionado will probably find nothing to interest them, but then a comprehensive ‘Best Of’ was only released a few years ago. This gathers together, in chronological order, all the number ones from their early days through to their disco heyday, right up to their comeback with You Win Again and rounds things off with the tribute to their late brother Maurice.
The first thing that strikes you when you listen to Number Ones is the amount of tracks that are instantly recognisable. It’s impossible to understate the Bee Gees’ influence and even the most casual of music fans will know classics such as Massachusetts and I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You. These early tracks are a bit hit and miss though – World is a bit bland while Don’t Forget To Remember becomes a bit of a dirge. How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, meanwhile, suffers by comparison to the superlative Al Green cover.
It’s when the album reaches the disco days that this album really takes off. Jive Talkin’, You Should Be Dancing, Stayin’ Alive and Night Fever are all the very definition of perfect pop music. It would be a cynical soul indeed who could fail to surrender to the sheer joy encapsulated in these tracks. Not forgetting the stone cold classic of Tragedy, a song that not even a woefully soulless cover version by Steps could diminish.
After these classics of high voices and close harmonies, the album runs out of steam a bit. Love You Inside Out sees the Gibb Bros’ voices sounding almost a parody of them, and the song itself is sounding a bit dated these days. You Win Again was widely seen as the band’s comeback, and is a suitably uplifting track that’s now almost a party staple.
Man In The Middle is the tribute to Maurice Gibb and is a pleasant, if rather plodding, track. There are also two bonus tracks in the shape of Islands In The Stream (originally a hit for Dolly Parton) and Immortality, which is a nice touch for fans but probably unimportant for most casual fans.
If there isn’t a Bee Gees record in your collection, then you could do a lot worse than picking this up. Behind the hair and teeth lies an impressive canon of work and even if their voices get on your nerves a bit after a while, there’s no denying that they’ve created some true classics of modern music. Number Ones is a worthy demonstration of just how good they could be, and a fitting tribute to Maurice Gibb.