“Saturday Night Fever,” the landmark soundtrack featuring a side of music by the Bee Gees and the gritty R-rated movie that made John Travolta a star, both come up on 40 years in November.
But CBS’ broadcast of “Stayin’ Alive: A Grammy Tribute to the Bee Gees” on Sunday night, featuring plenty of music made locally at North Miami’s famed Criteria Studios and the Gibbs’ former Middle Ear Studio on Miami Beach, proved that getting a jump-start on nostalgia can deliver ratings gold. The network scored 10.3 million viewers to win the night. The coveted 18-24 demographic even tuned in for a 1.2 rating. Social media posts on Facebook and Twitter similarly trended high.
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Credit a smart mix of talent that saw contemporary performers like Demi Lovato, DNCE, Panic at the Disco, Tori Kelly and Jason Derulo who all paid tribute to the timeless music alongside vintage acts like Stevie Wonder, Céline Dion, Keith Urban and “Fever” alum Tavares (“More Than a Woman”).
The two-hour special was also irresistible for the emotional resonance of watching Barry Gibb, the sole remaining Bee Gee, sit in the front row alongside his wife, Linda, son, Ashley, and pal Travolta, and watch others perform his music and pay tribute to his brothers Robin, Maurice and Andy Gibb. The latter, the youngest brother, became a solo star in the late-1970s with No. 1 hits including “Shadow Dancing” and “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water.” (Andy died in 1988 at 30 and the twins Maurice in 2003 at 53 and Robin in 2012 at 62.)
The touching sentiment elevated “Stayin’ Alive” above previous “Grammy Tribute” specials dedicated to Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” album and the Beatles.
Loved Panic at the Disco’s melodic run through the Bee Gees’ 1970 hit, “Lonely Days.” Little Big Town found its harmonies again after sacrificing them to the altar of country radio on its last few albums when the Nashville group crooned “How Deep Is Your Love.” Country’s Keith Urban delighted many with his take on the oft-covered 1967 staple, “To Love Somebody.”
But two performances stood above the rest.
Céline Dion’s “Immortality”
Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb wrote “Immortality” for Dion’s 1997 album, “Let’s Talk About Love” and sang harmonies on the track. The ballad was later used in the dreadful “Saturday Night Fever” Broadway musical.
But it transcended previous versions as Dion, in terrific voice, battled back tears as she verbally honored the memories of Maurice, Robin, Andy, her husband, René and her brother Daniel, both of whom died last year of cancer within days of one another.
As she sang, it was impossible to not feel moved, especially at the end as she knelt before Gibb and they shared a hug as his family and Travolta gazed on.
Barry Gibb’s “Fever” medley
There is so much more to the Bee Gees’ music than the three disco era songs Gibb sang with an L.A. house band and his son Stephen on guitar to close the broadcast. But those selected songs that featured in “Fever” — “Jive Talkin’,” “You Should Be Dancing” and “Stayin’ Alive” — were still so full of energy and infectious hooks you couldn’t help but boogie in your living room. Damn if Gibb’s falsetto wasn’t pretty much intact, too.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.