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Brent Johnson’s Lost Songs: ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’ by The Bee Gees

brent johnson digs up an underrated Bee Gees treasure in honor of Robin Gibb …

Websites and newspapers may soon be filled with obituaries for Robin Gibb, who has been reported close to death after slipping into a coma. They’ll surely talk about how he and his brothers turned The Bee Gees into superstars of the 1970s, helping create the craze known as disco. And they’ll probably mention how Robin was the one who came up with the idea for ‘Stayin’ Alive,’ the song that coaxed John Travolta and millions of others onto the dancefloor.

But that’s only part of the story.

In the beginning, Robin, Maurice and Barry Gibb were among of the more unsung talents of the British Invasion of the 1960s. They were never as inventive as The Beatles or as rowdy as The Who. But they started as a rock band that sounded nothing like disco at all — one that drew its influences from English folk and American soul, just like The Kinks and The Faces did.

The early Bee Gees also wrote really good songs. ‘To Love Somebody,’ ‘I Started A Joke,’ ‘Holiday.’ But the best may have been their first major single: ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941.’

Technically, it was a hit, reaching No. 14 on the American charts. But it’s not one of their most famous classics — even though it should be.

It’s musically sparse — starting with just haunting guitar and vocal harmonies. It’s lyrically bleak — about men trapped in a mine, talking of their loved ones above ground. It’s a reminder of when the Top 40 was packed with offbeat songs about topics other than romance and sex.

And the vulnerable, quivering solo vocals you hear peaking out of those harmonies were Robin’s. If Barry’s falsetto became the signature voice of the disco-era Bee Gees, Robin was the voice of the early Bee Gees.


Robin could soon be the second Bee Gee to leave us (his twin, Maurice, died in 2003). And if he does, he’ll be missed by a lot more than disco fans.


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