29
Jul 08

THE BEE GEES – “Night Fever”

FT + Popular225 comments • 8,623 views

#422, 29th April 1978

Never having read Wuthering Heights may be philistinism, but never having seen Saturday Night Fever comes close to dereliction of duty. Of course, I’ve heard the soundtrack plenty of times, and SNF has become such a cultural cornerstone, so open to reference and pastiche, that I feel like I’ve seen it. But honestly I haven’t. Luckily, the Nik Cohn essay it was based on was completely made up anyway, so in that pioneering spirit I can safely say that “Night Fever” encapsulates the film’s vision of disco and dancing: anonymous glide punctuated by breathtaking, desperate release.

Barry Gibb’s addictive, unnatural falsetto gave the Bee Gees a fantastic USP, but it also made their music weirder – the high register garbles his vocals, turning the opening lines of “Night Fever”‘s verses into compressed bat-squeak bursts. The effect is thrillingly urgent – here, as on “You Should Be Dancing” and “Stayin’ Alive”, Gibb sounds unearthly, speaking in hedonistic tongues – it’s similar to the helium effects and timestretching tech used to create the druggy pleasure-boost vocals on rave hits.

For me, those two are better songs than “Night Fever”, which after the initial rush of each verse settles into a confident shagpile groove but doesn’t seize me like the best Bee Gees, and the best disco does. It’s a fine, fine record, but far from my favourite on the soundtrack. The Bee Gees’ huge success – in the US they’d eaten the singles charts alive at this point, we got a mere echo of that – was the crest of the disco wave, the imagery of the film and their videos a potent mix of neon and chest hair which defined a moment in popular culture. (“Medallion Man” – applied knowingly to certain teachers – was half playground insult, half sneakily admiring sobriquet.)

The Bee Gees’ disco makeover had another effect, of course. To the rock establishment they were, after all, one of us or something close to it – chart semi-regulars with reasonable pop pedigree, they’d paid their dues and had the Pepper-imitating concept album to prove it. And here they were, not only adapting to this new music but dominating it completely, and becoming staggeringly rich in the process. If they could do it, many a rock star must have thought, why can’t I?

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Comments

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  1. 176
    vinylscot on 4 Aug 2008 #

    I ventured back to see what response my earlier comment had prompted, and was pleasantly surprised to see that I did not get the bollocking I probably deserved.

    Tom, you and all the regular posters are doing a grand job – if you weren’t I wouldn’t keep coming back.

  2. 177
    Waldo on 5 Aug 2008 #

    “Before the pub…” “After the pub…” What do these expressions mean? I have no concept of them. Only “IN the pub”.

    # 167 – Don’t be silly, Mark. Your contributions are never stupid and long live conversational drift.

  3. 178
    Chris Brown on 8 Aug 2008 #

    Ken Bruce occasionally plays ‘Fanny Be Tender With My Love’ and you can probably guess which joke it tends to lead to.

    At the risk of joining in consensus here, I tend to prefer Bee Gees songs sung by other people – Al Green being the great and surprising-to-me non-spoiler example – but those falsettos don’t half make the ballads painful. Even so, however, the fact that they wrote so many hits, and on a finite template, makes the whole thing quite wearing after a few days radio listening. And I got very tired of them during that wave of hype after they won the Brit Award (1997?)
    All that said, I think I get more enjoyment from this one than ‘Stayin Alive’ now, possibly because it’s less over-familiar. Or maybe it’s the strings. BTW, I’m pretty sure I’ve started watching the film on telly once or twice but never seen the whole thing.

  4. 179
    DJ Punctum on 8 Aug 2008 #

    “Aye, these bonnie wee popmasters the Bee Gees…”

  5. 180
    Waldo on 10 Aug 2008 #

    Ken: “Och, The Reverend Al Green with ‘Let’s Stay Together’. What was the wee rascal doing with Miss Scarlett in the ball room just there? Errrmmm…”

    Lynne Bowles: “Let’s not go there.”

    Ken: “No. Let’s do ‘Tracks of my Years’ instead. All this week, we have Neil Diamond…”

  6. 181
    Erithian on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Blimey, away for a week or two and this site got seriously feisty, didn’t it? No point in weighing in with my views on the spats after all this time, but I hope peace has broken out.

    Briefly FWIW, my thoughts on the Bee Gees – it’d be churlish not to admit they’ve written some top songs, such as “To Love Somebody”, “Words” and even the likes of “If I Can’t Have You” on SNF. But their disco years and their image at the time just grated with a capital G. Not to mention their complete sense-of-humour bypass. Sorry, but I’m with Clive Anderson as far as the Bee Gees are concerned – they’ll always be Les Tosseurs to me! (Can’t believe nobody has referred to that incident yet…)

  7. 182
    DJ Punctum on 11 Aug 2008 #

    And I’m with the Bee Gees as far as Clive Anderson is concerned, viz. “you’re the tosser, pal.”

  8. 183
    mike on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Yes, I *hearted* the Gibbs for giving Anderson the come-uppance he so richly deserved. He was a dreadful chat show host.

  9. 184
    Erithian on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Granted, he wasn’t exactly God’s gift to chat shows, but they did look like pillocks trailing off one after the other. Is it possible to do a walkoff and keep one’s dignity?

  10. 185
    Billy Smart on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Michael Hestletine certainly looked like a flouncing ninny on Channel 4 News, whereas I always end up with a certain amount of respect for John Nott’s cussedness in walking out of Robin Day’s 1982 Nationwide interview: “I don’t have to put up with this!”

  11. 186
    Erithian on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Albeit losing points for the time it took him to unhook the microphone.

  12. 187
    Mark G on 11 Aug 2008 #

    Maurice did walk away with dignity.

    And now, the Bee Gees are back.

    xxxxxxx. xxx xxx xxxxx.

    That’s all I’m saying.

  13. 188
    Waldo on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Ah, John Nott! A “here today and, if I may say so, gone tomorrow, politician”. Indeed. And there may well be another of these coming along quite shortly.

  14. 189
    Mark G on 12 Aug 2008 #

    yeah, which was a ridiculous thing for RobinDay to say, as politicians tend to hang on for ruddy decades.

    Ironic, though, I don’t recall John Nott at all after that!

  15. 190
    Billy Smart on 12 Aug 2008 #

    He had already announced his intention to retire to spend more time with his directorships, hence Day’s impertinent question. John Nott wrote a peculiar book a few years ago, about being an old man in search of lost youth by visiting nightclubs and lap-dancing establishments.

  16. 191
    wichita lineman on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Re 187: Mark G, what exactly are you alluding to? Back?? Please don’t tease!

    Yes, the walk-off said a lot about the brothers. Barry flouncing, the slightly less touchy Robin feeling obliged to follow, Maurice shrugging to camera as if to say “what can you do with these guys?” before exiting stage right.

    If any other star was called a tosser on live tv, I wonder how they’d react.

  17. 192
    DJ Punctum on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Also, at one remove:

    xxxxx xx xxxx

    and

    xxxxx xxxxxxxx

    not to mention

    xxxxx

    and

    xxxxxxx

    and

    xxx xxxx xx xxxx xxxx

  18. 193
    wichita lineman on 12 Aug 2008 #

    What is this, Ask The bleedin Family??

  19. 194
    Billy Smart on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Re 191: ‘Clive Anderson: All Talk’ was prerecorded, not live.

    I was in the studio audience for his first ever Channel 4 show, in 1989 in Teddington, the series when he had Tony Slattery as second banana. His guests were Ben Elton and a penguin.

  20. 195
    wichita lineman on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Either way, being called a tosser by Clive Anderson on tv, in front of cameras and an audience (presumably including a fair few people you know), how would most people react? I think I’d probably say “and you’ll always be a c*** to me, Clive”.

    I once hailed a taxi in Islington and Clive Anderson tried (and failed) to pinch it from me. He was taller than I expected.

  21. 196
    Pete on 12 Aug 2008 #

    In the interest of full disclosure, for people who have never seen the Clive Anderson piece, its here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdvfmGPDVkk

    For even more full disclosure and from way on up, here is the most famous Kenny Everett Bee Gee sketch.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpEkugItKQI&feature=related

  22. 197
    Erithian on 12 Aug 2008 #

    For anyone who can’t access YouTube, the context of the “tosser” bit was that Barry Gibb told Anderson the band had once, back in Australia, gone by the name of Les Tosseurs. Hence Anderson’s “you’ll always be Les Tosseurs to me”. Earlier on he’d called them “hit songwriters – well, only one letter out”. Many guests would give as good as they got in response to this – it was the trademark of the show after all – but not Barry. “Ah, we’re getting on a storm, aren’t we Clive? In fact I might just leave…”

  23. 198
    wichita lineman on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Senility’s a terrible thing. That’s not how I remember it at all. I thought the ‘tossers’ line was immediately before the walkout. I mean, I can’t stand Clive Anderson but you’d really think Barry would get the gag about Don’t Forget To Remember.

    Yes, they look stupid.

  24. 199
    Mark G on 12 Aug 2008 #

    It was a bunch of rubbish jokes pitted at the Bee Gees, to be fair. Barry at least looked like he’d actually had enough, Robin always looks like he should be treated with maximum respect at all times, Maurice was tempted to stay on…

  25. 200
    thevisitor on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Clive Anderson’s treatment of the Bee Gees singlehandedly turned me off him and everything he stands for. What really left a bad taste was his inability to grasp that their work had any musical merit. Even though two decades had passed, you suddenly sensed the anti-pop snobbery of a coterie of Oxbridge-educated Genesis and ELP fans (remember Anderson’s chums The Heebeegeebies?) attempting to reassert itself in an era when those musical battle lines were far more irrelevant than he believed the Bee Gees music to be.

    The sad thing about it was that it probably made the Bee Gees think that the world’s attitude towards their music was pretty much the same as it had become in the post-‘Disco Sucks’ early 80s. Perhaps the surprising thing here is that Barry was the first to walk out. Robin is usually the more volatile character – and has walked out of at least two interviews since the Clive Anderson thing, perceiving slights where (unlike the Clive Anderson show) none were intended.

    I think they were absolutely right to walk off. There’s good-natured ribbing and there’s calling someone a tosser and expecting them to sit there and take it. It would hardly have been funny if he’d adopted that tack with a Big Brother evictee, but in 1978 alone, Barry Gibb made a far greater impact on the world than most of us make in a lifetime.

    The Kenny Everett thing was fairly good-natured whimsy by comparison, and interviews with them suggest that they found it pretty funny. Mass-a-chew-sets indeed.

  26. 201
    thevisitor on 12 Aug 2008 #

    Re 198: “Yes, they look stupid”

    I think that once you’ve been on the receiving end of a huge backlash, you’ll never be able to lose that brittleness (bordering on chippiness) that comes of never quite knowing if the world is laughing with you or at you.

  27. 202
    wichita lineman on 12 Aug 2008 #

    You’re right, Visitor. The youtube clip skips the “hits with one letter missing” line, which – like the tossers line – isn’t a joke in anybody’s book, just a poke at a very soft target. It seems that Barry had just calmed himself down and was joining in the conversation again, when he finally lost his rag over a very innocuous joke.

    I saw the Bee Gees at the start of the nineties and they did a medley of SNF-era songs as if it was comedy relief, getting them out of the way as quick as possible. Very sad.

  28. 203
    Conrad on 15 Aug 2008 #

    200, I agree wholeheartedly. Anderson thought he’d found a soft target, belittling talented and successful, albeit terminally uncool, musicians.

    Shame he didn’t interview Grace Jones…

  29. 204
    DV on 24 Aug 2008 #

    Not seeing SNF is entirely reasonable, it is a miserable and depressing film, totally out of synch with the uplifting music it spawned.

  30. 205
    thefatgit on 2 Mar 2010 #

    On an altogether different tack, Night Fever indirectly reminds me of a disco anecdote from me dear ol’ mum.

    When I was old enough for the telly to babysit me, my parents would go off into town with a younger crowd and dance the night away at the local disco. It was usually her, my dad and a few of his mates that were about 10 years younger and part of the clubbing/disco scene. All dressed up in their finery, or what passed off as finery in the ’70s (I fear I have a mental picture of The Osmonds in full pastel pimpery on their “Love Me For A Reason” sleeve pic).

    On this one occasion, substances were being passed around the disco, and one of Dad’s young pals thought it would be a hilarious laugh to spike my mum’s rum & coke with speed. After a while, Mum felt the urge to gyrate uncontrollably in the middle of the dancefloor, for hours, one song after the next, all the time her young tormentor looked on grinning wickedly. My mum believes to this day that Dad was in on the joke although Dad continues to protest his innocence. The only song Mum remembers dancing to with any clarity was EWF’s “Boogie Wonderland”. At the end, she was so drenched with sweat, her top had become see-through (that bit always makes me shudder), and for weeks after, she was the main topic of conversation among the regulars. Night Fever indeed.

  31. 206
    Joe on 3 Mar 2010 #

    Regarding Barry Gibb’s “unnatural falsetto” according to every internet site posting the lyrics to Night Fever, the song opens:

    Listen to the Ground
    There is movement all around
    There is something goin down
    And I can feel it

    On the waves of the air
    There is dancin out there
    If it’s something we can share
    We can steal it

    Okay fine, I can Gibb say “There is dancin out there” and I can hear him say “We can steal it” but I can’t hear him say “If it’s something we can share”

    Is anyone skeptical that the lyrics are correct for the Opening to Night Fever?

  32. 207
    James K. on 4 Mar 2010 #

    There is a weird pause between “something” and “we” that ruins the cadence of the sentence, but I do hear those words.

  33. 208
    swanstep on 9 May 2011 #

    I like this track a lot. I agree with the consensus here that it’s not *quite* top-notch – I’d rate it about the same as More than a Woman and Emotion but below ace dance tracks Jive Talkin’/You should be dancing/Staying alive/If I can’t have you and ace ballads How deep is your love/(Don’t throw it all away)our love/Love you Inside and Out.
    7 or 8 is about right I guess.

    I agree with the consensus here too that the film’s worth seeing. I caught it on a re-release in the ’90s and was surprised, even shocked by its harsh edges.

    The ‘Night fever’ scene in the film importantly isn’t the key dance scene: the one performed to ‘You should be dancing’ is. Apparently Travolta chose the music for that scene – it was originally supposed to be done to the new-for-the-soundtrack Night Fever but Travolta had trained on YSBD, and he was right that the latter is just higher energy and right for the scene. Travolta also had a large say in how it was shot and edited. The director (and maybe the studio – the story varies) wanted lots of cutaways to close-ups, but Travolta insisted on the number being shot much like an old-time MGM studio dance number. Travolta’s instincts were correct. Travolta’s timing in the scene is so precise that the scene works great with any number of dance music soundtracks, and there’s a thriving industry on youtube devoted to this. One of the best is this.

  34. 209
    AndyPandy on 9 May 2011 #

    The Bee Gees certainly hit a rich vein of form from “You Should Be Dancing” onwards – I was also pleasantly surprised when I finally saw ‘Saturday Night Fever’ for the first time when it was first shown on telly in the 80s -it defintely has a raw edge and the setting was timeless and universal for anyone who lived for Friday and Saturday nights in their late teens/early twenties.

    PS the office I worked out of on a contract for a few weeks around Christmas in Chorlton, Manchester was literally 4 or 5 doors from the Bee Gees’ childhood home and where I believe Barry used to have run-ins with the law as a young ‘un (I think Chorlton was a bit more run down then than the trendy place for aspiring professionals that it is these days). Robin and Barry bought the house a couple of years ago and rent it out but you’d never guess as it looks slightly run down.

  35. 210
    wichita lineman on 6 Jun 2011 #

    The second verse of this is indecipherable. You can mimic the sounds coming out of Barry Gibb’s mouth but “speaking in hedonistic tongues” is exactly right. The muted first half of the chorus isn’t much clearer (“big city woman with jewels in her eyes”??). It’s a much stranger record on headphones than it sounds wafting out of a cafe radio. The backing is SO lush and restrained, it counters the urgent vocal beautifully.

  36. 211
    punctum on 6 Jun 2011 #

    Those second verse lyrics in full:

    “In the heat of our love
    Don’t need no help for us to make it.
    Gimme just enough to take us to the mornin’.
    I got fire in my mind.
    I got higher in my walkin’.
    And I’m glowin’ in the dark,
    I’m givin’ you warnin’.”

    So was this song an uncanny prophecy of Three Mile Island?

  37. 212
    mk on 20 Jan 2012 #

    To 198 #wichita lineman † on 12 August 2008 #

    Yes! That’s how I remember it too, for some reason. I remember the host (can’t remember who) calling them ‘tossers’, and even Barry saying ‘Pardon me?’ or something of the sort, and then all of them getting up and walking out. If there isn’t another interview like this, somewhere, I must be going bananas.

  38. 213
    Moarie on 3 Jun 2012 #

    BGs alleged it’s the first line out of Clive’s mouth that offended (“s/hit writers” reference – and BGs prided themselves on songwriting if nothing else), not the tosser bit.

    The 2001 Mojo interview quotes Maurice:
    We could see our fans in the audience and they were stunned, like, ‘How can they sit here and take that?’ Before I knew it, Barry was up, and I could feel the heat from his body. He was really angry.
    But some good has come out of it. Robin has changed since that night. He’s mellowed down. It’s like he got rid of all the garbage. People have been taking the piss for many years. Anderson was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. That was a turning point for us.

    Caveats (as observed from youtube clips – did my research, ta!):
    Bee Gees do have a sense of humor about themselves. Their primary function as child stars, and later appearances as MCs on American TV midnight specials, were all as silly pop buffoon types since their looks and composure were never gonna pass for Grade A teen idol like their youngest brother Andy.
    Maurice is especially a jokester (often “inappropriately” mocking his 2 bros on 70s stage, during “serious drama!” ballads. They let him ruin the mood, always.) Long before Clive, “To Love Somebody” was self-parodied as “To Lose Your Penis” for Howard Stern show.

    Even ’80 Donahue interview with its “hardball” investigative interview style (constantly insinuating they were damaged by child labor working in Aussie nightclubs, racetracks, TV), still had them fielding question with earnest patience, relaxed retorts of savvy stage kids. In short, they enjoyed silliness until they caught up people really took them for nothing but a joke!

    But the disco backlash took its toll. Think constant media mockery of MJ’s vitiligo and social habits, albeit on smaller, invisible scale. It becomes a constant ribbing they could be buttressed from if their social circle included no such outright hecklers. But in the persona of Clive, who they pegged as a “supporter” due to 2-year courtship of Bee Gees appearance on the show, it was a bitter pill to swallow with the magistrate watching with hands cuffed on your back. The reality staring them in the face, that they really are “shit writers”, spoken so charisma-free that betrayed a belief statement rather than jovial jostling between “familiar friends”…it adds up quickly.
    Also Barry used to hold his ire like the best suffering monk in the world. Clive just happened upon a man who’s been much changed since late 80s by debilitating arthritis and osteoporosis. Those conditions call for regimented chemical changes to the body, folks. In consequence, it alters the suave resolve of the “Lion” from yesteryears much much…to delight of reality TV bust-up viewers.

  39. 214
    Moarie on 3 Jun 2012 #

    Mike @ #98:
    The “racism and/or homophobia” are a judgement clause, but basically they’re observing a sense of threat in perceiving an encroaching culture that is NOT rooted in the mainstream cultural tent-poles, NOR filtered to be safe versions of the outer fringes.

    Of course some will argue that Bee Gees white-washed “genuine” outsider disco just to maintain the negative spin, but it’s illogical because the stigma firmly in place always comes back to Bee Gees violating the good taste of masculinity, masculine codes in both SOUND and VISUAL – which again reverts back to the fear of the un-masculine, The Ghey.

    Having a messenger worthy of (messianic) worship or personal identification is rock’s major underpinning. Disco is about facelessness (Donna and Bee Gees remain interlocuters, emcees to usher you into an adrenaline-filled world of sweaty workouts), disappearing into a giant mass of dancing, sweating bodies (as social event per se, I’m even not hinting at the homophobic assumption by some that disco MUST be questionable compared to moshing or violent outbreaks at rock concerts, simply because straight sex that may transpire from bodies pressed together at weekend outings always trumps gay sex over the same nights elsewhere.)

    The real hubbub, was always about perceived overflowing of what should be ghettoized, contained – when in fact the actual extent of “infestation”, is only spoken of in individual perception that suggest distortion when the less threatened simply experienced wider acceptance of a kind of music-accompanied clubbing experience, than a complete overthrow of a rock business model and institution firmly entrenched FOR DECADES.

    Heading into Reganite 80s when Gays would die by truckloads while known symptom detection and awareness campaign were kept on lock down until the dam was finally broken by early 90s (Magic Johnson, Freddie Mercury to name 2 examples), AIDS-phobia, homophobia part of the cultural backdrop (when was Stonewall? When did Harvey Milk get killed?) — disco was but another symptom of greater things to come…(2012: The First Gay (endorsement by) President!)

    And spot on about the issue of authenticity of DIY-ers. There simply are too many contradictions within the “Rockist” camp. By late 70s, who can keep a straight face that Rock itself wasn’t a multi-million business? If all disco is producer-driven pap (ignoring the presence of e-music producers like Eno, or rock producers becoming godly figures over the years), then how to explain Bee Gees needing to work at all in songwriting and rethinking their vocal assembly? What of rock journalism who loved pitting the new against the old such as punk against glam/emerging stadium rock, just to hurry things along while fashioning their mini-thrones in the process?

  40. 215
    Brendan on 24 Sep 2012 #

    What let’s ‘Night Fever’ down for me is that the verses hint at a build-up to a rousing chorus only for it to turn out to be a damp squib. There’s nothing much wrong with it other than that but it makes it seem a little bit unmemorable especially, as everyone else has already pointed out, in relation to the other SNF tracks not least ‘Stayin’ Alive’. I’ll give it 6.

  41. 216
    punctum on 7 Oct 2012 #

    TPL on the soundtrack.

  42. 217
    Cumbrian on 27 Feb 2014 #

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4octJwjb7LE

    I’ll just leave this here. Springsteen does Folk Disco – though Tom Morello sounds well out of place.

  43. 218
    hectorthebat on 26 Jul 2014 #

    Critic watch:

    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Dave Marsh & Kevin Stein (USA) – The 40 Best of the Top 40 Singles by Year (1981) 13
    BBC Radio2 (UK) – Sold on Song, a Celebration of Great Songs and Songwriting
    Gary Mulholland (UK) – This Is Uncool: The 500 Best Singles Since Punk Rock (2002)
    The Guardian (UK) – 1000 Songs Everyone Must Hear (2009)
    Sounds (UK) – Singles of the Year 9

  44. 219
    swanstep on 21 Nov 2015 #

    I’ve recommended DJDiscoCatV2’s ‘Disco Purrfection’ mixes to Popular before, but his/her just-released mix of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ is probably the best yet:
    https://youtu.be/DY7pipZGUkg
    You get to hear all sorts of structure to the track that was inaudible before (the re-mixer must have access to master tape stems or some such thing). Highly recommended (If you aren’t already convinced that the Brothers Gibb were both song-writing and studio gods, this will do it).

    Note that this remixer did ‘Night Fever’ a few weeks ago too:
    https://youtu.be/p8rIhf6Q1o4
    Not quite as revelatory in my view but your mileage may vary.

  45. 220
    Lazarus on 5 Jan 2016 #

    Seems as good a place as any to mark the passing of Robert Stigwood, a man who did pretty well out of ‘Saturday Night Fever’ as well as ‘Grease’ whose soundtrack also came out on his RSO label. Connected with various other chart acts, starting with John Leyton, but I imagine his name will always be most closely associated with the Gibb brothers.

  46. 221
    Tommy Mack on 10 Apr 2016 #

    Stuck Bee Gees’ Number 1s album on last night and this occurred to me: are the Bee Gees the best example of “were really successful at a particular pop thing and then completely changed direction really abruptly and were really successful at a completely different pop thing”?

    Michael Jackson, I guess but does it count if the change of direction is a solo thing from a group member (I know MJ did solo albums when he was in the Jackson 5 but it’s not quite the same) Dylan maybe but his ‘going electric’ doesn’t quite feel like the work of different people as say Massachusetts does from Stayin’ Alive.

  47. 222
    Paulito on 10 Apr 2016 #

    Was MJ’s solo stuff really that different in style from what he was doing with the Jacksons? It would seem to me that the transition in that instance was from fairly standard disco/R&B to a more advanced version thereof. He certainly created a unique sound with ‘Off The Wall’, and even more so with ‘Thriller’, but I wouldn’t describe either album as a major genre shift from the material he had been making with his brothers just beforehand.

  48. 223
    Paulito on 10 Apr 2016 #

    To answer your question, though, Fleetwood Mac’s enormously successful musical reinvention in 1975 (led, of course, by the two new members they had just drafted in) comes to mind. By coincidence, ’75 was also the year that the Gibbs changed their own template to enormously lucrative effect. It’s worth noting, though, that both bands had seen their commercial fortunes wane considerably in the preceding few years. In either case the stylistic shift was undoubtedly a commercial decision as much as an artistic one.

  49. 224
    Izzy on 11 Apr 2016 #

    New Order, if one interprets ‘really successful’ a little more loosely. U2’s eighties and nineties incarnations is another interesting contender.

    The Bee Gees are the most startling case though. One can make a case for some degree of progression with the other four, but with the Gibbs you can definitely see the join.

  50. 225
    Tommy Mack on 11 Apr 2016 #

    #222: you’re right: a big step forward rather than an unexpected lurch sideways.

    #223: Yes, forgot about Fleetwood Mac though as you say, practically different bands.

    #224: yep, definite progression with each of yr examples, even if you include Joy Division in the New Order Story.

    Bowie obviously but, again, I don’t count him because he was continuously reinventing himself from day one (and kudos that he didn’t let success stop him) rather than ballad, ballad, ballad, LET’S GO FUCKING DISCO!

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