The Bee Gees’ 40 greatest songs – ranked!

<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

40. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1993)

The Bee Gees’ biggest 90s hit sums up the pros and cons of their output during the decade. On the one hand, it’s an exceptionally high-quality song, the product of master craftsmen at work. On the other, the production is slick to the point of seeming faintly anodyne.

39. Wildflower (1981)

The sound of a band still reeling from the 1979 disco backlash – one variant on the Disco Sucks T-shirt also featured the phrase “Kill the Bee Gees” – the album Living Eyes is all over the place. But Wildflower is a moment of genuine magic in the shape of understated, folky soft rock.

38. Trafalgar (1971)

Written by and featuring a rare lead vocal from Maurice Gibb, the title track of their 1971 album is audibly indebted to the oeuvre of John Lennon, but none the worse for that. The descending melody is sulkily beautiful; the chorus soars. Oasis should have covered it.

37. Until (1979)

Lurking on the B-side of Tragedy – or at the very end of Spirits Having Flown – Until is among the Bee Gees’ most underrated tracks. It’s a brief waft of delicate, beatless, synthesiser-backed misery that leaves the listener hanging, uncertain what happened to destroy the youthful romance it initially depicts.

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36. She Keeps on Coming (2001)

After a run of glossily professional 90s albums, This Is Where I Came In seemed to hark back to the Bee Gees’ 60s work while also experimenting. It was their best record in years, its willingness to push the boundaries summed up by She Keeps on Coming, which strongly suggests they had been listening to Talking Heads.

35. New York Mining Disaster 1941 (1967)

A scurrilous rumour suggested that the Bee Gees’ first UK hit was secretly the work of the Beatles. You can see why: the northern accents, the richness of the tune. But the Beatles never recorded anything this bleak, inspired equally by the Aberfan disaster and a power cut that left the Gibb brothers harmonising in the dark.

34. Massachusetts (1967)

The No 1 singles of 1967 usually fit one of two categories: turned-on psychedelia, or the MOR reaction against it. But Massachusetts sat somewhere in the middle. Soft and straightforward by Bee Gees ballad standards, the lyrics nevertheless dealt with a hippy hitching to San Francisco but getting no further than New England.

33. Sweet Song of Summer (1972)

The title of the album To Whom it May Concern underlines its unfocused contents, but just occasionally the Bee Gees’ increasing confusion about their purpose led them to try something completely off-beam. Sweet Song of Summer’s eerie analogue synth backing and ominous mood is a haunting anomaly in their catalogue.

32. I Can’t See Nobody (1967)

Subsequently covered by Nina Simone, I Can’t See Nobody – originally the B-side of New York Mining Disaster 1941 – introduced audiences outside Australia to the extraordinary voice of Robin Gibb, which even his mother said made her “go cold”. Singing lead, he sounds as if he is about to burst into tears.

Related: The Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb: ‘There’s fame and there’s ultra-fame – it can destroy you’

31. Odessa (City on the Black Sea) (1969)

It’s sometimes hard to convey to those who know only the hits how weird the Bee Gees’ late 60s albums can be. Quick fix: play them Odessa’s title track, seven and a half ever-shifting minutes involving harp, strings, heartbreak, the saga of an 1899 shipwreck and a burst of Baa Baa Black Sheep. Inexplicable, but amazing.

30. Dogs (1974)

Produced by Arif Mardin, Mr Natural is a transitional album that links the distinct phases of the Bee Gees’ career. While it still majored in ballads, Mardin encouraged the Gibbs’ love of rhythm and blues, hence the appealingly gentle funk of Dogs. It was unlike anything they had recorded before – and a signpost to the future.

29. I Started a Joke (1968)

Almost all the Bee Gees’ 60s hits tend to the gloomy, but Robin’s songs amp up the sadness to the point where it becomes faintly disturbing. Which brings us to I Started a Joke, on which everything goes horribly wrong, until its protagonist dies, apparently to general rejoicing.

28. First of May (1969)

Fraternal relations were fraught during the recording of Odessa, something the lyrics of Barry Gibb’s splendidly morose First of May may allude to, happy childhood memories contrasting with latter-day estrangement. If they do, it’s ironic that the song in effect split the Bee Gees, Robin quitting in protest at its release as a single.

27. One (1989)

The album One is largely melancholy and haunted by the death of their brother Andy Gibb, but there is a pleasing irony about the fact that the Bee Gees returned to the US Top 10 after 12 years with a dancefloor-focused song that – behind the electronic 80s production – could have appeared on their disco-era albums.

The Bee Gees in 1971
The band in 1971. Photograph: Pictorial Press/Alamy

26. Warm Ride (1977)

The missing piece of Saturday Night Fever. It was mooted for the soundtrack, then abandoned and eventually donated to Andy, who released it on his final album, a post-disco backlash flop in 1980. The Bee Gees’ version finally came out on a 2007 compilation. The fact it’s audibly unfinished doesn’t affect its fidgety greatness.

25. Kilburn Towers (1968)

An unexpected addition to the setlist of Barry’s 2013 Mythology tour, Kilburn Towers is a hidden gem on Idea. A beautiful evocation of the sun setting over Sydney on a summer’s evening, it drifts along on a warm breeze of acoustic guitar and mellotron. Slight, but irresistibly lovely.

24. Melody Fair (1969)

Written for Odessa, but later used as the theme for the 1971 movie Melody, Melody Fair encapsulates the two competing impulses within the 60s Bee Gees. It starts out as parent-friendly MOR pop, then suddenly, thrillingly, dives into a heavy-lidded, stoned-sounding, Lennon-y chorus.

23. You Stepped into My Life (1976)

Disco devotees may favour Melba Moore’s cover – more urgent, lush and dramatic than the original, it was a huge club hit in 1978. But You Stepped into My Life is a fantastic song regardless of the arrangement, its nagging hook and heady, spiralling melody evidence of the Bee Gees’ intuitive grasp of disco.

22. World (1967)

The follow-up to Massachusetts was darker and more complex – not so much a love song as a cry of existential confusion apparently rooted in the Bee Gees’ sudden success: “Where in the world will I be tomorrow? Am I needed here?” The guitar keeps threatening to break into a squealing, distorted, cathartic solo that never appears.

The Bee Gees in 1967, with Vince Melouney (far left) and Colin Peterson (second right)
The Bee Gees in 1967, with Vince Melouney (far left) and Colin Peterson (second right). Photograph: Pictorial Press/Alamy

21. Charade (1974)

The failure of 1973’s Life in a Tin Can and their record label’s rejection of its mooted follow-up seemed to shake the Bee Gees into upping their game. The opener of Mr Natural is wonderful, dressing their trademark ballad style in a warm, pillowy, jazzy arrangement.

20. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? (1971)

A suitably fragile-sounding song about Robin’s return to the Bee Gees – after the First of May fallout – the original version of How Can You Mend a Broken Heart? was the band’s first US No 1, but the song blossomed when Al Green covered it to striking effect in 1972.

19. You Should Be Dancing (1976)

The toughest disco track the Bee Gees recorded, You Should Be Dancing is as insistent as its title suggests. Introduced by a relentless one-note rhythm track, punctuated by blasts of urgent brass and host to a writhingly funky, conga-heavy breakdown, it feels like being at the centre of a sweaty, packed dancefloor at 2am.

18. Love You Inside Out (1979)

Commercially overshadowed in the UK by its predecessor, Tragedy, Love You Inside Out is the vastly better song. If Tragedy pushes the Bee Gees’ disco sound to the point where it sounds shrill and melodramatic, Love You Inside Out is utterly classy: calmer, more subtle, with an amazing chorus.

17. Fanny (Be Tender With My Love) (1975)

Only the Bee Gees would write a ballad this luscious – its harmonies so thickly layered that they couldn’t be replicated live – then lumber it with a title like that. It was named after the band’s housekeeper, but why not change the name? Annie? Or, indeed, anything else?

16. More Than a Woman (1977)

So good it appeared on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album twice. It’s a toss-up as to whether the Bee Gees’ original or Tavares’ cover is the better version (the latter was a hit single). Both glide and gleam; it has the assured sound of songwriters who know exactly what they are doing.

Bee Gees stage in 1998
On stage in 1998. Photograph: PA

15. Holiday (1967)

Holiday dispenses with drums almost entirely, setting Robin’s vocal to washes of orchestration, extravagant harp glissandos and church-y organ. But for all the lavishness of the sound, its real power comes from the fact that there is something ineffably creepy about its minor chords and imponderably odd lyrics.

14. If I Can’t Have You (1977)

The Bee Gees understood that much of the best disco has a tension at its heart – uplifting music chafing against emotionally wrenching lyrics. If I Can’t Have You is an utterly downcast tale of unrequited love that feels completely euphoric. Yvonne Elliman’s cover is definitive, but the original is fantastic too.

13. I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You (1968)

In effect a murder ballad – not an area of music readily associated with the Bee Gees – I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You’s protagonist is headed for the gallows and unable to call his partner to say goodbye. Best bit: the final key change, where Robin suddenly dials up the angst, sounding almost strangulated by his own distress.

12. Too Much Heaven (1978)

There’s a hint of the Chi-Lites and the Stylistics’ ultra-soft soul about Too Much Heaven. It was a deeply unhip influence to flaunt in 1978 – that sound had long lost its commercial cachet – but the results are stunning. And when did the Bee Gees ever worry about being hip?

11. Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You (1967)

Clearly unsure whether they wanted to be housewives’ favourites or experimentalists inspired by Sgt Pepper’s, the 60s Bee Gees attempted to be both. The tear-jerking ballads were the hits, but the weird stuff could be incredible. Here, mellotron and mock-Gregorian chanting interrupts tumbling, elegiac, harmony-bedecked psychedelia.

10. You Win Again (1987)

The Gibbs’ big UK comeback – their first No 1 in eight years – isn’t just a perfect pop song; it also carries a faint hint of their 60s idiosyncrasy. The production is so bizarre that their label complained; the stomping drum track, recorded in Maurice’s garage, drowns out the rest of the arrangement.

9. Words (1968)

The second modern standard the Bee Gees came up with in less than a year. Words’ bulletproof tune – and Barry’s fabulous vocal, at turns fragile and anguished – spawned more than 150 covers, including versions by Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Terry Wogan and Boyzone, alas not together.

8. Nights on Broadway (1975)

Nights on Broadway introduced the world to Barry’s trademark falsetto, a response to Mardin’s request for him to “scream in tune”. It’s also an amazing song, best heard in its full-length album version, complete with a slow section that underlines how disconsolate the lyrics that lurk behind the buoyant music are.

7. Run to Me (1972)

It says something about the embarrassment of songwriting riches in the Bee Gees’ catalogue that a song as good as Run to Me – filled with shifts in tone from tender verses to anthemic choruses, plus a Top 10 hit to boot – feels overlooked. In anyone else’s oeuvre, it would be a showstopper.

6. Night Fever (1977)

Almost incomprehensible on record, the lyrics of Night Fever’s verses are really good, perfectly capturing the sense of anticipation before a night out – “on the waves of the air / There is dancing out there”. The music is captivating: dramatic, beseeching verses, blissful chorus. A masterpiece.

Related: The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart review – fame, hair and regrets

5. Spirits (Having Flown) (1979)

Amazingly never released as a single, their final disco-era album’s title track might be its highlight. Its super-smooth late 70s west-coast sound – with Herbie Mann on flute – takes a step back from the dancefloor. Meanwhile, the moment at 1:30 when the chorus achieves lift-off is just awesome.

4. How Deep Is Your Love (1977)

The 2020 documentary How Can You Mend a Broken Heart featured a clip of the Bee Gees writing How Deep Is Your Love, pulling its implausibly beautiful melody out of thin air. The lyrical paranoia – “a world of fools breaking us down” – offers a distinctly odd, and thus very Bee Gees, counterpoint.

3. Jive Talkin’ (1975)

The song that transformed the Bee Gees’ career didn’t just offer a new sound; it was also an incredible single. The preponderance of hooks feels effortless, the squelching synth bass, guitar mimicking the sound of a car rattling over a bridge and airily funky drums offering an invitation to dance that is impossible to refuse.

2. To Love Somebody (1967)

The first sign that the Bee Gees were preternaturally gifted songwriters. Robin was still a teenager when he and Barry wrote To Love Somebody, which almost immediately became a modern standard, recorded by everyone from Nina Simone to Rod Stewart. The pick is James Carr’s anguished southern soul version.

1. Stayin’ Alive (1977)

The bore’s version of events – that the Bee Gees were arriviste opportunists who ruined disco through their ubiquity – ignores how lavishly talented the Gibbs were at making disco; by no stretch of the imagination are the songs they wrote for Saturday Night Fever novelty records. Stayin’ Alive, in particular, is perfection: an opening riff that will clearly propel people towards dancefloors for the rest of time; the relentlessness of the looped drum track; the lyrics, about “desperation”, as Barry put it, concealing a stew of toxic, damaged machismo and urban blight beneath the hooks. It’s utterly of its moment and yet timeless.