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Lonely Days (B R&M Gibb) and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? (B&R Gibb) – Bee Gees 1971

The process of re-uniting the Bee Gees was torturous, both Maurice and Barry had released solo singles during the period of the split and also developed solo albums. Barry with The Kid’s No Good and Maurice with The Loner, but neither were ever released, although bootleg copies have surfaced.

Robin had succeeded with the Bee Gees sound-a-like single Saved By The Bell, but the follow up single lifted from his debut solo album, Robin’s ReignOne Million Years – was a laborious, self-indulgent flop. So was the album on which Robin seemed to wallow in his private world of suffering, abandonment, absent friends, and unrequited brotherly love. Another single, August October stiffed, and he was manically working on taking a second solo album, Sing Slowly Sisters, into chart oblivion, when he realized that his fanbase had virtually disappeared, so he picked up the phone and called his twin brother.    

It seemed that the time was drawing near for the sniping and soap opera of their split to end. Maurice was once again the conciliator, and he soon reached rapprochement with his twin brother. They recruited support musicians including guitarist Alan Kendall, a replacement drummer in Geoff Bridgford (ex-Tin Tin), and advised Barry that they were going to record with or without him. Barry waited to see if his new solo single I’ll Kiss Your Memory, was going to be a hit, it wasn’t, and so he rejoined the group.

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On June13th 1970, the re-formed Bee Gees went into the Nova and IBC Studios in London to record their third studio album, the reflectively, if unimaginatively-titled 2 Years On, as it marked the end of the period of fraternal schism in the group, so avoiding what was developing into a costly lawyers’ picnic; trying to unravel their various interests and overlapping copyright and royalty arrangements.

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Lonely Days was the only single lifted from this album, it had started life as a Maurice-inspired piano instrumental demo, but Barry and Robin had exchanged vocal ad-libs to create an altogether different and engaging song, it seemed that the old creative magic had returned.

It was also no coincidence that the Beatles had released their Abbey Road album the year before, and the market was artfully appropriating its exotic sounds, song structures, and production aesthetics. Lonely Days owes a debt to the Beatles Carry That Weight and Golden Slumbers, the shifting tempos and rich harmonies are Beatles-esque; and the alternating piano and string arrangements by Bill Shepherd were sweet and melodious, beautifully underscoring the ever-present timbre and ethereal harmonies of the three brothers.

Maurice shared lead vocals for the first time on a major single release, he had supported both of his brothers during the split, performed creditably in the Stigwood stage musical Sing A Rude Song, and mentored and produced the ex-pat Aussie group Tin Tin (Steve Kipner and Steve Groves) to an international hit with Toast and Marmalade For Tea, at last he had won some belated recognition from his brothers for the skills and dynamics he brought to the group.

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The promo clip for Lonely Days was however contrived, over-stylised, and indulgent, as the brothers conspicuous wealth was on public display – the stately homes, leafy suburbs, luxury cars (Rolls Royce (2) and Merc), gold records, statuettes, and Barry’s Pyrenian mountain dog Barnaby– and yet all three brothers were gloomy, separated, wistfully musing over their fraternal schism, until at the end of the clip they all arrived at a deserted field in their luxury vehicles, pointedly forming a peace symbol with the motors, from which they emerge and shake hands – if ever a video was ripe for parody this was it!

Lonely Days was a #3 hit in the USA, #9 in Aust, and top 40 in the UK, the band were putting their personal differences behind them, and barely two months after completing the recording of 2 Years On, they were back in the IBC Studios with Robert Stigwood to record their next album, Trafalgar.

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Alarm bells went off when it was noted that the album gatefold cover included a montage of the group members re-enacting the death of Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, newly-recruited drummer Geoff Bridgford was reading a Beezer comic, and there was an appearance of the brothers’ dad Hugh Gibbs (top left) – it was bizarre.

But the brothers seemed to be back in harmony again, although the demarcation between them about who got songwriting credits were more pedantically drawn, and Robin exercised his right to sing on only certain songs, so that he did not provide vocals on half of the album, clearly he was no longer prepared to be just Barry’s backing singer.

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The first single lifted from Trafalgarwas the poignant romantic ballad How Can You Mend a Broken Heart on which Barry and Robin shared lead vocals, the brothers duet here is brilliant, Robin’s tremulous first verse solo is counterpointed with Barry’s breathy falsetto response, perfectly blending the tonality and harmonies of two great voices This was the first of nine US #1 hits for the Bee Gees and it was the makeup song that the boys had to record to bring the group back together, it was literally how they mended their broken hearts, and also kept Stiggy (Robert Stigwood) happy. Subsequently Al Green would record a brilliant version of this song, and create a definitive gospel-tinged soul standard at the same time.

The soulful cadences of brotherly timbre and harmony, the Gibbs.

A moderately successful tour of the US, and a triumphant return tour of Australia in 1971, augered well for the future of the reformed Bee Gees, but musical tastes were changing, and the brothers would face challenging times in the future.

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