The Bee Gees

No one dominated the charts in the late seventies more than the brothers Gibb, Barry, Maurice and Robin, better known as The Bee Gees. Along with the Saturday Night Fever soudtrack on RSO Records, they had a string of top ten singles too numerous to mention before they had their disco hits, including "Massachusetts," "New York Mining Disaster 1941," "To Love Somebody" and "I've Got To Get A Message To You." Band-leader Barry Gibb was also busy producing artists like Barbra Streisand, and their younger brother Andy was a successful solo recording artist in his own right with a couple of hits under his belt. When they were eventually inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, their citation read: "Only Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and Garth Brooks have sold more records than The Bee Gees."

So it came as somewhat of a shock to me when The Bee Gees finally came to perform in Toronto in the summer of 1980, that the Polygram hierarchy would suddenly decide to mark the occasion by doing things on the cheap. I mean, this was the biggest group in the world and the company`s biggest money-maker at that time, and it struck me sort of odd that money was no object a few months before promoting The Village People and some other lesser bands, but here we were being told that there would be no party or Gold or Platinum record presentations for arguably the biggest band in the world. Apart from the three or four limos needed for the group and their immediate families, who travelled with them, nothing else was to be done. That was another first, seeing a major headliner travelling with their wives, kids, nannies, etc. -- all the accoutrements of normal family life under the admittedly different circumstances of being a touring world-famous pop band.

But by this time, I`d just about had it with Polygram anyway. There were a number of reasons for this that included: 1) the continuous non-stop routine of arranging interviews and setting up promotional parties for innumerable important and unimportant visiting acts that never seemed to stop coming; 2) the fact that my mentor at the record company, Tim Harrold, had been transferred to Hamburg, Germany to head up Polygram`s classical record line Deutsche Grammophon; and 3) that he had been replaced by two rigid German Polygram executives, Peter Erdmann as the new president and Dieter Radecki as vice-president of sales and marketing. Both brought a less friendly jack-boot fiscal approach to the business, and not only wanted to slash costs, but also the artist roster. They also were demanding that every department head, including me, fire one person in their department to save money.

Although there were still some good acts coming through, like The Jam from England and John Mellencamp from the U.S., I frankly was getting tired of it all, and with the recent order from the new bosses to cut costs and people, and to not provide tickets for certain key media people for the Bee Gees show for past favours I felt we owed them really ticked me off. All the press and radio people who had helped spread the message for the band far and wide by writing stories about them and playing their music were now going to be told to forget about seeing our biggest act on our tab. It seemed slightly reminiscent of Louis XVI's proclamation of "Let them eat cake."

So when Deiter told me on the phone that the only Polygram presence at the show was to be me going backstage to say a quiet hello to the band and wish them well before the show, that was it for me. This wasn't what I'd signed up for originally, and the only two things Polygram's new strict fiscal policy was going to accomplish in my mind was to lower the reputation of the company with the media and all of the bands on the label, and provide me with a solid reason for leaving.

I'd had a good run for three years at a job I loved and I'd had a chance to meet and work with a lot of interesting people. I'd also been allowed, thanks to Polygram, to put together the soundtrack for the successful teen movie Porkys as its music supervisor, and also with their blessing run a celebrity-driven radio campaign for the Canadian Cancer Society, but now it was time to go. Suddenly the priorities seemed screwed up. All the money the company had blown on the countless number of no-hit wonders that had come through town over the past three years convinced me that we were short-shrifting our greatest asset - our reputation. When I got off the phone with Dieter, I remember saying to my secretary, Cindy, only half seriously, "I'm outta here." She looked shocked when I said it as she`d never heard me threaten to leave before but - much to everyone's surprise -- it all came true a few weeks later.

The big spending days of the record business really were over, along with the disco era, but before too long I was swept into a whole new musical adventure.

Following Maurice Gibb's sudden death from a heart attack in 2003, Barry and Robin Gibb temporarily retired the group after 45 years of activity, but in 2009, Robin Gibb revealed that he and Barry had agreed that The Bee Gees would re-form and perform again. True to their word, The Bee Gees appeared together again on the season finale of 2010's "American Idol" and sang their hit "How Deep Is Your Love" with two of the semi-finalists.

From: "Pop Goes The Weasel: Rock'N'Roll Off The Record"
Copyright: Gerry Young (printed on the GSI website with permission of the author)

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