Are You Ready For My High Civilization?

Does it make one a hipster to be a champion of the late-era Bee Gees? If we divide the Bee Gees’ career as a band into three acts, then their first act would be the period from when the three older brothers Gibb joined together through 1974’s Mr. Natural. The second act, and the shortest in terms of time, would be the Bee Gees at their peak commercial appeal from Main Course to 1981’s Living Eyes, after which the Bee Gees took a break after the disco backlash and wrote songs for other acts before returning with 1987’s ESP, after which they had a late career artistic renaissance that eventually turned into a commercial revival before the death of Maurice in 2003 ended the group as a going concern. Before discussing the topic of this third act of the group’s career, I would like to say that I like the entire career of the Bee Gees, and think that all 3 eras of their music have some truly amazing and worthwhile songs. If I am most familiar with the third act of their career that is due to an accident of timing more than anything else, as that happens to be the only era that I was aware of when it was happening, as I was not alive during almost all of the first two acts of the group’s career.

Again, though, the question stands. Does it make one a hipster to be a champion of the third act of the Bee Gees’ career? It is true that this third act, at least initially, was the least popular of the three acts of the Bee Gees’ career. It took quite a while after the disco backlash before anyone wanted to hear the Bee Gees on the radio again, and even when their music became more popular with album and streaming-listening audiences their music from this period remained unpopular on most radio stations in the United States, although in fairness the band remained popular abroad in the UK and Australia, for example, and around the world in general. This is mostly an American phenomenon, although admittedly High Civilization and Size Isn’t Everything, two albums that do not have a track I find less than very good among them, did not chart at all in Australia either, for whatever reason. It is a characteristic of hipsters to champion somewhat unpopular causes, and celebrating the greatness of two of the most obscure albums in a body of record of an act that had a music career spanning from the 1960s to the 2000’s and a wide degree of popularity at several points in that career is unpopular only by comparison. Even at their least popular, the Bee Gees were still popular and successful with some of their singles and with all of their albums somewhere. Of their six albums in the third act of their career, 1987’s ESP, 1989’s One, 1991’s High Civilization, 1993’s Size Isn’t Everything, 1997’s Still Waters, and 2001’s This Is Where I Came In, five of those albums were in the top 10 in Germany and Switzerland, 2 were in the top 20 in the United States (Still Waters going double platinum), and all six were in the top 30 in the United Kingdom. We are not talking about a band that was rejected everywhere, after all, even after it was long past its commercial peak.

But it remains true that the music of this third act of the Bee Gees career is their least familiar to general audiences in the United States. Unless you deliberately seek out the music of the Bee Gees, and I personally do, most of the songs from the last act of their career are not going to be very familiar. Only five of their singles from 1987 to 2001 ever hit the Hot 100 at all, “You Win Again” (#75 in 1987), “One” (#7 in 1989), “Paying The Price Of Love” (#74 in 1993), and both “Alone” (#28) and “Still Waters (Run Deep) (#57) in 1997. Again, in most other countries of the world they were far more successful with other singles, but in the United States over a creatively successful and artistically brilliant period of fourteen years only one of their songs hit the top ten, and only two hit the top 40 out of six albums of well-regarded material. This is by no means an impressive record of hit success. Whatever the reasons for this lack of success, it does not reflect on the quality of the material released. High Civilization was the only Bee Gees studio album after 1966’s Spicks And Specks to never be in the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, and yet the album is solid from top to bottom, with nary a bad song among its entire collection.

There are at least two aspects to being a hipster when one looks at the career of the Bee Gees. One element is being a fan of that which is not commonly enjoyed or appreciated. It is comparatively less popular to be a fan of the Bee Gees’ late work except among those like myself who are fond of the entire body of work as a whole, as a general rule at least. There are sufficient people who are fans of the body of work of the brothers Gibb as a whole that one need not be too out of the mainstream by being fond of it, although admittedly being fond of their early 1990’s work is probably the least mainstream aspect of their fandom in the United States, it must be readily admitted. But the other aspect of being a hipster ought to be taken into account as well. Would I like their fantastic early 1990’s any less if they had been as popular as Still Waters, or Spirits Having Flown, or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack? I do not think so. Admittedly, it would not be necessary to champion those albums that had already been bought and appreciated by millions of Americans as those albums have, instead of being bought by only tens of thousands of Americans at most, as was the case with their early 1990’s albums. One need not worry about being a hipster after all; one can simply enjoy and like what music one likes.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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