Andy Gibb – Shadow Dancing
Despite the reassurances of most parents, not every child is special. For families that dwell in the pop music universe, this is especially true. For every talented and brightly colored hatchling that spreads his or her musical wings, leaves the family nest and flies away to musical superstardom, there is often a less fortunate sibling/ugly duckling left behind to wallow in the cracked eggshells of chart failure.
Let’s take the Jackson family. Michael and Janet were clearly the superstars of the brood, and older brother Jermaine had a respectable two-decade run of hits. But sister Rebbie could only muster a single minor US top 40 single, while brothers Tito, Randy and Jackie never had a solo hit, and the less said of LaToya’s recording adventures, the better. Ditto the Osmonds. Donny (no.1 when I was born with Puppy Love! – Ed.) and Marie were the moneymakers, and Little Jimmy had his moment in the sun with Long Haired Lover From Liverpool. But brothers Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay? The fact that they never ventured away from the protective core of the group to attempt hit-making on their own speaks volumes about their place in the family musical talent hierarchy. And even where a family has more than one sibling that has had chart success, there is almost always one that is clearly the alpha: see, for example, Kylie and Dannii Minogue; Beyoncé and Solange; Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears; Paul McCartney and Mike McGear.
A notable exception to this rule? British-Australian superstar, 70’s teen idol, and younger brother of the Bee Gees, Andy Gibb. The youngest of the five Gibb children, Andy was only eight years old when his famous older siblings – Barry, and twins Robin and Maurice – scored their first international top 10 hits with New York Mining Disaster 1941 and the classic To Love Somebody in 1966. By the time Andy was a teenager, his brothers were bona fide superstars, with multiple worldwide top 10s and chart toppers in the UK and the US (Massachusetts and I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You in the UK, and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart in the US, which failed to chart in the UK and would make a great future column here). After quitting school at age 13, Andy began to compose and record music, forming several bands, including Melody Fayre (named after a Bee Gees song). These bands, however, did not prove successful, and with the encouragement of his brothers, Andy embarked on a solo career in 1975.
Around this time, the Bee Gees had begun to enter their second (and greatest) imperial phase, after three hitless years. Jive Talkin’ hit no.1 in the US and no.5 in the UK in 1975, and that begat a series of disco-flavored hits (You Should Be Dancing, Nights On Broadway) that ultimately led to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever and the band’s reign as the biggest chart makers of the late 1970s. The impresario Robert Stigwood, who was managing them at this time, heard Andy’s demos and concluded that with his superior singing voice and teen-idol good looks, he might duplicate the popularity of his older brothers. Stigwood’s intuition was on the money: Andy’s first single for Stigwood’s label, I Just Want to Be Your Everything, (written by Barry) raced to no.1 in the US and became the most played song of 1977. The follow-up, (Love Is) Thicker Than Water, also hit the summit in the US, right at the time the Bee Gees’ hits from Saturday Night Fever” were topping the charts. Andy’s movie star handsomeness also made him a teen magazine cover favorite. Wanting to capitalize on all of this success, Stigwood rushed Andy (with the help of his brothers) into the studio in early 1978.
The single that resulted from these sessions, Shadow Dancing, is a sultry and slinky mid-tempo pop classic. Instantly recognizable as the work of both Andy and of his brothers (with Andy on lead and his older brothers on harmony), it is a perfect melding of the teen-pop funk-lite that was Andy’s signature and the more propulsive and muscular beats of the older Gibbs brothers’ dance hits. Though the song is rooted deeply in the instrumental disco quirks of its era (swelling strings and jittery horn blasts), Andy’s vocal is remarkably pure and unaffected and gives the overall production a timeless quality. It could be a hit today.
Shadow Dancing became Andy’s third US no.1 and the biggest hit of his career, topping the chart in July 1978. Written in under twenty minutes, the song also became the no.1 song of the year in the US. In the UK, however, it sputtered to a lowly no.42. The follow-up, An Everlasting Love, became Andy’s sole UK top 10, but it is a far lesser effort. He continued to have chart success in the US, albeit with diminishing returns, but his career was torpedoed by his cocaine addiction, which ultimately led to his death from heart failure in 1988. But as Shadow Dancing and his other hits evidenced, Andy was one of the rare few “lesser” siblings whose talent and chart success – for a little while at least – equaled and arguably surpassed the achievements of his brothers.
Entered chart: 13/5/78
Chart peak: 42
Weeks on chart: 6
Who could sing this today and have a hit? This requires the talent of a pop idol who combines good looks with an ability to sing soulfully and to a disco beat. Zayn Malik, this one’s for you!