Robin Gibb, as a songwriter and vocalist, infused his music with a certain deceiving urgency, from the Bee Gees' early plea of "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" to the landmark disco declaration "Stayin' Alive."
That energy helped him and brothers Barry and Maurice go from teen idols to igniters of a worldwide Saturday Night Fever that spread a pop-powered dance craze to discos everywhere.
Robin Gibb, who died Sunday at age 62, proved himself in a nearly five-decade career a master of hooks and harmony whose musical influence will long outlast the fashion impact of John Travolta's white disco duds.
From his musical rise in the mid-1960, Gibb stood out for a soulful tremolo that added a touch of drama – sometimes melodrama – to treacle-basted pop hits like "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" and "I Started a Joke." As music morphed and cleaved in mid-1970, the Bee Gees adapted by turning out proto-disco hits like "Jive Talkin'" and "Nights on Broadway," with Barry Gibb's piercing falsetto juxtaposed against his brothers' lush backing vocals emerging the group's trademark sound.
Nobody, though, expected disco inferno the Brothers Gibb helped spark in 1977 with the debut of the "Saturday Night Fever" soundtrack. The record became the biggest selling album of all time, surpassed later by "Thriller," another groundbreaking pop-dance work by an artist who started a youngster singing radio friendly tunes with his brothers.
The Bee Gees became icons of sorts, thanks their contributions to the double-album, which included such finely crafted songs as "How Deep is Your Love," "More Than a Woman" and "Night Fever." But perhaps the image most associated with the trio was Travolta in that white suit.
The siblings peaked with "Saturday Night Fever" and would never approach the personal fame of a Michael Jackson or the Beatles, as they proved in their star-crossed turn as stand-ins for John, Paul, George and Ringo in the disastrous 1978 "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" movie. One of the flick's few redeeming moments came in Robin Gibb's mellow, yet emotionally effective take on "Oh! Darling."
With their own music, the Bee Gees helped provide the soundtrack for many lives – and have shown durability and cross-generational appeal. The April 17 installment of "Glee" was a salute to "Saturday Night Fever." Last year, Justin Timberlake played Robin in Jimmy Fallon's "The Barry Gibb Talk Show" spoof on "Saturday Night Live."
Maurice Gibb, Robin's twin, died in 2003 at age 53. The death of Robin Gibb, for those of us old enough to recall his "Saturday Night Fever" glory, marks yet another too early pop passage – closely following last week’s untimely death of disco queen Donna Summer at age 63 and the February demise of 66-year-old Davy Jones, whose Monkees dueled the Bee Gees for boy band supremacy back in the day. At sad, generation-shaking moments like these, we at least can be grateful that the music and memories are stayin' alive.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.