45 Years Ago: The Bee Gees Shift to Disco With ‘Jive Talkin’’
When the Bee Gees released their single “Jive Talkin’” in May 1975, it marked a major stylistic turning point in the band’s history.
The brotherly trio had already enjoyed success. Between 1967 and 1972, the group placed 11 songs in the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including hitting No. 1 with 1971’s “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
The early songs of their career, which lent stylistically toward soft-rock ballads, had won the Bee Gees fans across the globe. However, the group hit a rough patch in 1973 when its album Life in a Tin Can was a commercial flop. It’s follow-up, 1974’s Mr. Natural, fared even worse. For a moment, it appeared as though the band’s run of success had come to an end.
Looking to shake things up, the Bee Gees decided to ditch their traditional recording location of London. This idea was suggested by a different music legend, Eric Clapton. “He was signed to the same [record] company, RSO, and he said, ‘My comeback [1974's 461 Ocean Boulevard] has really worked,’” Barry Gibb recalled to M magazine. “He said, ‘Why don’t you try to work in another country like America and see if you’re influenced by it?’ We did — and never looked back.”
The Bee Gees chose to record their 1975 album, Main Course, in Miami, a decision that proved genius. The city's vibrant nightlife undoubtedly energized the group, while the local dance clubs gave the musicians a peak at the developing disco trend.
Still, the Bee Gees needed inspiration and it would come from an unlikely place: the Julia Tuttle Causeway bridge. “Every night, we were going back and forth to Criteria Studios from Biscayne Bay,” Gibb later explained, describing the band’s commute. “The bridge made a clickety-clackety sound. It stayed in my head, and one night, coming back from the studio, I just started singing this thing over top of the rhythm.”
Gibb called his new song “Drive Talking,” and his brothers quickly caught on to the idea: “Robin and Maurice picked up on it, and we actually finished the song late that night.”
The trio brought the song idea to the studio the next day and presented it to producer Arif Mardin. Though the group had mixed pop rock and R&B sounds into its early work, this would be its first foray into a true dance track.
“We were working in the studio and having a good time when [Atlantic Records president] Ahmet Ertegun and Robert Stigwood, then manager of the Bee Gees, came and said ‘Wow, this is great, very danceable,’” Mardin later recalled. “We were making dance music? We didn’t even know!”
While listening back to a take of “Drive Talking,” the Bee Gees noticed that Barry Gibb seemed to say “Jive” instead of “Drive.” The band members had heard the word “jive” thrown around in clubs and determined they liked it more, even though they weren’t exactly sure what it meant. “We thought jive talkin’ meant that you’re dancing,” Maurice Gibb admitted. When Mardin explained that “jive talking” was actually slang for lying, the group rewrote lyrics to match.
With a catchy chorus, infectious beat and unmistakable synth line, “Jive Talkin’” marked a pivotal point for the Bee Gees. Though the Main Course album would still contain several soft ballads that recalled their earlier sound, the Bee Gees had clearly discovered a new direction for the group.
“Jive Talkin’” was chosen as the LP's first single and, in an effort to circumvent any predisposed opinions of the Bee Gees, the track was sent to radio stations in plain white packaging without information on who was performing. The strategy worked, as “Jive Talkin’” quickly began making its way up the chart. After initially being released in May 1975, the track peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard chart that August.
Often regarded as the Bee Gees' comeback song, “Jive Talkin’” suddenly made the group the face of disco. The title would be further cemented two years later with the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, which featured such disco classics as “Stayin’ Alive,” “You Should Be Dancing” and, of course, “Jive Talkin’.”