Happy 40th Anniversary to Andy Gibb’s second studio album Shadow Dancing, originally released in April of 1978.
I received much of my preliminary education in music from the AM radio in my parents’ Pontiac Astre station wagon. My memory is far from didactic, as I’m usually a few neurons short of remembering where I put my keys or wallet most days. But I vividly recall the instances in which I was strapped in the back seat and heard Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing,” Billy Joel’s “My Life,” and Steely Dan’s “Peg.” These songs are little virtual time machines that trigger me in ways others don’t, to the point where I can almost smell our car’s beige vinyl upholstery.
Andy Gibb’s career-defining single “Shadow Dancing” also has its specific place in my brain, and the first time I made note of it on the radio was while I was sitting at an A&W drive-in with my family, trying to stab french fries in a Styrofoam container with a tiny orange plastic pitchfork. If that recollection sounds scarily precise, it is. But these flashbacks have given me such a tangible, emotional connection to the music that comprises my life’s soundtrack, and after forty-two years you can imagine just how expansive the mosaic of these moments must now be. I’ve stopped questioning how I could possibly recollect such obscure details and have accepted it as a gift that’s clearly given me a lot to write about over the past few years.
And so it’s only fitting that the Shadow Dancing album finds its way into the list of records to which I’m paying tribute.
The follow-up to Andy’s debut album Flowing Rivers arrived just as its predecessor’s second single “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water” had finished its time atop Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. With the reassembled production team responsible for Andy’s first platinum opus—Barry Gibb, Albhy Galuten, and Karl Richardson—sessions began in December 1977 and wrapped in February 1978, just before the Bee Gees, Galuten, and Richardson would retreat back into the studio for much of the rest of the year to record Spirits Having Flown.
The recording of Shadow Dancing was split between studios in Los Angeles and Miami to accommodate Barry’s schedule as he filmed the now regrettable Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with brothers Robin and Maurice at nearby MGM and Universal City Studios.
“I remember what we started with was in L.A., and the band was out, and they stayed at the Chateau Marmont with Andy. And the Bee Gees, I think, were doing some movie with Robert Stigwood,” joked co-producer Karl Richardson in a recent phone conversation. “But we did it at [Wally] Heider’s Studios, I think it was near Hollywood and Vine, in the wooden room.
And I remember that AGHO, the ‘Andy Gibb Hit Orchestra,’ which was [bassist] Harold [Cowart], Tubby [Ron Ziegler] on drums, and Joey Murcia was the guitarist. Barry would show up to the studio as an excuse to get away from this movie, and we were in a little Heider room. Albhy would show up to the hotel at night, and Andy was staying upstairs at the Chateau. You would woodshed the band, you know, ‘let’s find the groove here.’ And Tubby had a practice pad, you know, a drummer’s practice pad. Or maybe he was hitting his sticks on the chairs, or something. We would hang and the rhythm tracks came out of that, where everybody was talking to everybody. That was the groove.”
The title track, penned by all four Gibb brothers, was released as Shadow Dancing’s debut single, rising to the summit of Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart on June 17, 1978 where it would remain for seven consecutive weeks. Opening with a bold series of string-and-horn hits, “Shadow Dancing” is a decidedly more Latin-infused Miami Beach groove than either of “…Thicker Than Water” or “I Just Want To Be Your Everything.” But like the former, a compelling hybrid rhythm guitar-synth line courtesy of guitarists Joey Murcia and Tim Renwick, and keyboardist George Bitzer, gives the single interest that separates it from plain pop breeze.
“During the era when we would do stuff, George Bitzer would come up with stuff and we would fit together the keyboard and the two guitars, kind of like to make up one part that all fit together,” recalls co-producer Albhy Galuten from his office in Los Angeles. “It’s the same thing we did on ‘Grease,’ the single.”
Lyrically, “Shadow Dancing” finds its protagonist longing for a relationship that appears to be just out of reach, which mirrors some of the youthful vulnerability that made “I Just Want To Be Your Everything” work so flawlessly as a record. Andy, still nineteen when the song was written and recorded, is completely believable as the romanticist when he declares something like “you’ve got me looking at that heaven in your eyes” or “you are the question, and the answer am I.”
At a time when the orchestra would regularly be integral, a pop single’s movement rather than an afterthought, the sweeping strings on “Shadow Dancing” are a critical part of its DNA. Listen to them crash and cascade over top of the vocals and rhythm section rather than behind it. These, along with the horns, were added to the mix after the basic instrumental and lead vocals were laid down in California.
“I remember we went back to [Criteria’s] Studio C and did a lot of overdubs,” Richardson affirms. “We did the horns with the University of Miami guys. Certainly all the Barry stuff and the background vocals with Johnne [Sambataro] and the guys.”
Vocalist and guitarist Sambataro, who worked on the sessions for both Flowing Rivers and Shadow Dancing, reminisced about recording vocals alongside Barry and Andy on the album. “[Barry] told me a story once when we were singing, and I don’t even remember during what song this came about. We were singing and we ran into a little problem locking in, and he started talking to me about background vocals and singing in general and that it’s kind of like acting. You’ve got to find a character and stay with the character, and sometimes you’re smiling, and sometimes you’re making an angry face. When you create this character with your voice, you create this mental picture and people see that when they hear the vocal.
At the time it really helped me get into focus with how to blend with Barry and Andy because they sounded so much alike. And I had to find that place because I didn’t sound like them, and I had to find that pinch in the same kind of singing and breath, where there was a lot of breath coming out, to sing in unison and on pitch.”
The commercial success of “Shadow Dancing” was staggering. It was the eighth number one single for the RSO Records label in 1978, a feat even more impressive when you consider that those singles all occupied the pole position between February and June. It was also named Billboard’s number one single of the year, and established Andy as the first solo artist on that chart to have their first three singles reach number one. As far as the band and production team was concerned, its greatness was all but written in the stars.
“One thing about that album and that particular song that I remember, of all the sessions I’ve done—and I’m probably on about thirty-five albums, you know, from John Parr, Peter Frampton, Clapton and stuff—but that was the only time I remember being in the studio where everybody unanimously said ‘this is a hit record.’ And it was,” explains Sambataro from his home in Florida. “Everybody felt that when we heard that back in the studio. A lot of sessions that I did, we always felt ‘oh, this is really good. It’s great.’ When I did [Clapton’s] Money and Cigarettes album, I felt the same way—not knowing really whether any of those songs were going to be a hit, although it turned out that ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Heart’ would be [one].
But at that time, when [the Gibbs’ manager and patriarch of RSO Records] Robert Stigwood was in the studio, you could just see by his excitement when he heard it. And Andy was still trying to really nail the lead vocal. There was an evening when Robert came in and everybody was kind of coaching Andy, you know ‘sing a little bit harder! Make it more believable! Smile! Don’t smile! Be angry!’ All the little tidbits that Albhy and Barry would try to coach him to do. You could just see the excitement on Robert’s face that he knew he had something there that was pretty special. That this was going to be an over-the-top single. And I think within ten days, the thing shipped platinum.”
“Why” is the second track on the album, a brisk mid-tempo piece that incorporates swirls of excellent slide and rhythm guitar by Sambataro and Firefall member Jock Bartley, respectively. Having written the song together, Andy and Barry—much like they did on “I Just Want To Be Your Everything”—mesh falsettos on the choruses and in the breaks, urgently lifting off from the one sung by Andy in his now-trademark breathy natural voice. It was released as a single in the United Kingdom, but remained as an album cut in the rest of the world.
A bittersweet epic, “Fool For A Night” is one of six songs written by Andy for Shadow Dancing. Its alternating tempo, plucky electric guitar melody, and nearly trumpet-like string swoops make it unique among his body of compositions, and its infectiousness might have you mistake it for fluff. But if you take a closer listen to the lyrics on the bridge (“where are the friends you made? / no-one is left who can show the way, oh no / and when the burden ends / I will heal you, time will turn you back to me”) suggest something much more regretful and possibly autobiographical.
Andy’s daughter, Peta Gibb-Weber, who was born in early 1978 as Shadow Dancing was in its formative stages, recorded her own version of “Fool For A Night” as part of the Gibb Collective, a conglomerate of second-generation Gibbs who released Please Don’t Turn Out The Lights, a tribute album to their fathers and uncles, in 2017. It’s markedly different than Andy’s original, but by design.
“I chose ‘Fool For A Night’ for a number of reasons, both musical and personal,” she recently explained. “The main reason, though, was because my father wrote it alone. That was the prerequisite I set for myself when making a choice, whether it was a well-known song or not. I wanted the opportunity to connect with my father on a deeper level in the studio, and I felt this would be easier to do if it was a song that came from his own heart and mind.
My producer and I made a shortlist of songs from all of my father’s albums and really engaged with them all together and individually to find the right one. ‘Fool For A Night’ really stood out, lyrically and musically. It’s cleverly constructed, creative and just pure pop. It’s uniquely my father in style and substance. And the lyrics really spoke to me in relation to where he was at in his life at that time—sad and feeling out of control—although the sadness was buried under a neat little pop melody and jazzy strings. It’s a cool song and it deserves to be heard more.”
“An Everlasting Love” was the second single released from Shadow Dancing in June 1978—a fast-moving, complex pop composition that contrasts nearly everything Andy or the Bee Gees had recorded up to that point. “’An Everlasting Love’ was an interesting, really well-crafted song,” Galuten offers. Its strength and uniqueness lie in the thickly-layered choruses that repeat themselves in offset melody lines, an effect that could have easily passed as electronically processed. However, Sambataro, who sang the background vocals with Barry and Andy, assures that what we hear is organic. “The only thing I remember about ‘An Everlasting Love’ was almost hyperventilating singing that song [laughs], he recalls. “I’m tellin’ ya, it was a mouthful to sing that chorus, and it goes on forever! That was a great song.”
The top-five US hit—and Andy’s only top-ten hit in the United Kingdom—was followed by what many consider to be one of his finest vocal recordings. The beautiful ballad “(Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away” began as a Bee Gees song, penned by Barry and keyboardist Derek “Blue” Weaver, a year earlier. “I remember ‘(Our Love)…’ because that was the only song on the album I did not sing on,” Sambataro reflects. “That was all Barry. That was one of those days where he came in and said ‘I gotta do this one.’ He had made his mind up, and it was great, that’s all I can say. To be there and watch that man work was a lesson.”
The verses are beautifully sung in Andy’s natural voice, barely rising above a whisper, which eventually pick up into a call-and-answer exchange with Barry’s multi-tracked background vocal. A bridge section was added between the last chorus and the closing refrain, providing a showcase for Andy’s falsetto voice. As the song fades, Andy tackles the stratospheric ad libs that Barry assumed on the prototype, and does an incredibly good job. It’s a masterfully produced track that deservedly continued his top-ten singles run into 1979.
The lifespan of “(Our Love)…” has extended well beyond what’s arguably its definitive reading on Shadow Dancing. The Bee Gees’ blueprint surfaced on a promotional single and on their Greatest compilation. Actress singer Jennifer Love-Hewitt covered the song on her eponymous 1996 album, and it would be resurrected again by Barry as he helmed the 2005 Barbra Streisand album, Guilty Pleasures. The Bee Gees also included the song as a posthumous tribute to their brother during their One Night Only concert series, which edited Andy’s performance of the song’s second verse into the live performance.
The second side of Shadow Dancing is comprised solely of songs Andy penned on his own, save for “One More Look At The Night,” which has been co-credited to Galuten in some sources. “There’s a different tone generally between the Barry songs and the not-Barry songs,” he confirms. And they’re an even great contrast, still, to the Nashville-shaded tracks that made up most of Flowing Rivers. Galuten feels the sonic shift, was mostly due to Andy’s acculturation to the United States. The vast majority of Flowing Rivers’ songs were written while he was still living in Australia, and he’d had an opportunity to tour with a greater diversity of musicians since arriving in America.
“[Andy came] to the US and went on the road with this band,” Galuten remembers. “The rhythm section was the Atlantic Records rhythm section for the first year, and they played on records like ‘Rainy Night in Georgia’ and with Brook Benton and Carmen McRae. They were a tight, Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based rhythm section, and Joey Murcia, the guitar player, was also on the road with them and played on all of those T.K. records. They had a lot of more rhythmic and soul influence playing on the road.”
Richardson echoed this sentiment. “[His] transition from Australia to America was pretty graphic. There was a period of time of about one or two years between when he showed up when we went into the Shadow Dancing record. He lived with his brothers and he got to experience Miami Beach, had divorced his Australian wife [Kim], and experienced all kinds of culture shock. I think doing tours and being in America taught him to grow up really fast.”
While his burgeoning fan base embraced the closer proximity of Andy’s sound to that of what his brothers were producing at the time, Peta is among those who believe that Andy’s identity as an artist might have been obfuscated by it. “I’ve always thought [it was] a real shame, as my father did have a sound that was uniquely his, and he also never wanted to be seen as just a junior clone of his brothers. His sound, an earthy, emotional, sometimes country vibe, came through very clearly in his first album…and that’s why that album stands alone as my personal favourite. There’s not much of that sound [on Shadow Dancing], but in a few of the self-penned tracks like ‘Good Feeling’ and ‘I Go For You,’ as well as ‘Fool For A Night,’ you can hear some of what makes my father Andy Gibb, the individual artist, not just the Bee Gees' little brother. For me, these are the tunes that stand out as I can hear my father’s personality refusing to be completely subdued by the slick, Bee Gees-style production.”
Despite the discordant opinions on Andy’s work on Shadow Dancing, his own compositions are individually strong, if not more polished than those on Flowing Rivers. Although the three singles in which Barry was highly involved are still arguably among some of the best work he’s produced for other artists outside the Bee Gees and propelled the success of the album from a commercial standpoint, Andy’s own writing could have easily sustained an entire album had he been given the opportunity.
“Melody” is a lovely ballad that demonstrates how hard Andy strived for clarity and quality in his vocals on this set. “I Go For You,” which features excellent guitar work by the Eagles’ Don Felder, achieves an authentic classic rock timbre that wouldn’t have been as eloquently comfortable on a Bee Gees record at the time. “Good Feeling” feels unflinchingly optimistic with its swelling choruses and upbeat lyrics.
However, the album’s closing track “Waiting For You” feels once again melancholic and sadly prophetic (“look at what’s left of me now / I was so lost I just couldn’t pull out”) of the difficulties Andy would face in his personal and professional life once the afterglow of Shadow Dancing had dissipated.
Shadow Dancing peaked at number seven on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart, and accompanied Flowing Rivers in its platinum-selling status. For many, including myself, the album is redolent of a time that seemed simpler, or at least less consequential. For some who knew Andy, it represented a commercial and artistic peak that he’d struggle to reclaim for the next decade.
“Shadow Dancing makes me sad really, because I know too much about the difficult place my father was in at the time it was written,” Peta asserts. “And I can hear it coming through in so many of his self-penned tracks. He was going through a difficult divorce with my mum that certainly wasn’t the ending either of them had desired and then I was born three months before this album was released, and he wasn’t able to get away from his commitments to be with his new baby, despite a strongly expressed desire to do so.
He had enormous pressure on him to make this album a success and avoid second album-syndrome and he was also struggling with some pretty debilitating and serious addiction issues. He was drowning his sorrows in a hedonistic party lifestyle with celebrities that pretended to be his friends but weren’t there for him when the chips were down, and was actually really, deeply lonely. All of this and he was only just twenty years old. It was the beginning of a spiral that would eventually cost him his life.”
Andy’s struggle with his rising celebrity that would reach an unprecedented height with Shadow Dancing had other implications inside the studio, according to Galuten. “The musicians and engineers all got to hang out and float from place to place. If you were in a band, you’d hang out with other band members. But if you were an artist like Andy, he was still a little bit trapped in ‘I’m here and people come to visit me.’ He didn’t get the chance to go and spend time with other bands. If he was working on something, he’d go next door and say ‘hi,’ but he never had the good fortune of being able to just essentially live there. And it could have been so great for him to be around all the physical stimulus and not just in the vacuum of him and his brothers and then going on the road with his band. But him not being able to be around all those other influences sort of makes me sad.”
As a complete work, Shadow Dancing warrants deeper musical consideration beyond the dizzying high of Andy’s teen idol appeal with which it has become associated, and it’s a fascinating display of contradictions between the complicated facets of his life. But his obvious talent and passion for record-making and the level of production investment across its forty-minute duration has afforded it a longevity and memorability that almost none of his contemporaries of the time have been able to achieve. Whether you agree or not that Shadow Dancing is a creative triumph, its success was hard-earned and long-weathered on many levels.