By the time the Bee Gees emerged from the IBC Studios in London in July 1968 having completed their third international album,Idea, they had written and recorded three albums in one year, all the brothers were taking speed to enable them to maintain the frenetic pace necessary to write and record at least 50 songs a year, and maintain a hectic touring schedule, their fraternal bonds were at breaking point. Substance abuse problems also began to divide the group, the names Barry, Robin, and Maurice were at this time interchangeable with “potty, pilly and pissy” as they revealed to Rolling Stone magazine in 1991.
The brothers’ personal lives were also evolving, Barry’s marriage to Australian girl Maureen Bates in 1966 was about to end after he met Lynda Gray, a former Miss Edinburgh, whom he would marry in 1970, Maurice was dating Lulu (real name Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie) and Robin had taken up with Robert Stigwood’s secretary Molly Hullis, both twins would subsequently marry their partners. Below the Gibbs with Stiggy.
Artistic ego was also fracturing the relationship between Barry and Robin, who were respectively the melody and words of the Bee Gees songs. Robin believed that he was not getting due recognition for his efforts, that his song choices for record releases was unappreciated and unsupported, and that Robert Stigwood was more intent on promoting his older brother with the matinee idol looks as the leader and creative focus of the group, a classic case of Barry the Alpha male dominating his twin Beta male brothers.
The first single lifted off Idea was the pop melodrama, I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You, originally inspired by a lover’s quarrel that Robin had with his partner Molly, but sung by him from the perspective of a condemned prisoner, who pleads with his chaplain to convey a message to his wife, there is a sense of urgency and finality as the prisoner is on death row and the gallows awaits him. The Gibbs felt that it would be a good song for Percy Sledge to record but he didn’t do his soul version of this song until 1970.
“The preacher walked with me and he smiled/ Said “Come and walk with me, come and walk one more mile/Now for once in your life you’re alone/ But you ain’t got a dime, there’s no time for the phone.” The theme of the song is reminiscent of Delilah, a recent hit at the time by Tom Jones, Barry and Robin shared plaintive vocals and the song was a substantial international hit, #4 in Aust, #1 in the UK and #8 in the USA
I Started a Joke, the second single released from the album, is typical of the band’s early introspective songs, with Robin providing tremulous lead vocals, Barry and Maurice dominating the harmony vocals and the rest of the band providing backup accompaniment. By now Melouney and Petersen were effectively excluded from the creative processes inside the group and would soon depart the scene voluntarily (Melouney) or in Petersen’s case to be sacked . Lyrically the song is enigmatic, self-deprecatory, maudlin, and mysterious – “I started a joke, which started the whole world crying/… I started to cry, which set the whole world laughing.”
It was one of Robin’s favorite songs along with How Deep Is Your Love, he believed that it possessed a spiritual quality and resonated on a personal level for many people because of its innate message of personal faith, bereavement, and survival despite feeling alienated from loved ones, it was a #1 hit in Aust and charted #6 in the USA, but it was not released in the UK, much to Robin’s chagrin. Idea was buoyed by the success of the two hit singles and charted #4 in the UK and France, #8 in Aust, #21 in Canada, and #17 in USA. notching up global sales in excess of one million.
The first full tour of the US by the band in 1968 was disastrous, tour dates were cancelled supposedly due to Robin’s nervous exhaustion although it was primarily due to poor ticket sales, it was a financial failure and they would not return to tour the US again until 1971.
In 1969 Robin would quit the Bee Gees and embark on a solo career, despite the best efforts of the conciliatory Maurice to broker a peace, the schism continued for the next eighteen months, with the Bee Gees and Robin writing, recording, and performing separately.
During this period Robert Stigwood came up with the novel idea of recruiting the brothers’ elder sister Lesley Evans (nee Gibb) to fill in for Robin at live performances and she was rushed from her Sydney home to London to commence rehearsals for an upcoming BBC special: The Talk of the Town: The Bee Gees in London, to a broadcast audience of tens of thousands. Lesley performed creditably but ultimately returned to her husband Keith, her twin daughters and pet Staffordshire bull terriers in Sydney’s west, and rarely reflects on her brief brush with stardom as a member of the most famous band of siblings in popular music history.