Later, President Carter met with the Bee Gees at the White House to thank them for their fundraising efforts. After Carter congratulated them, the brothers presented him with one of their black satin tour jackets. Carter grinned, and admitted that he was "not much of a disco fan." However, he was familiar with the Bee Gees' music, because daughter Amy played their records "all the time."
The Bee Gees' contribution was the first in a new project called Music for UNICEF. It was launched officially in January 1979, when the International Year of the Child began. Other artists who pledged song royalties included John Denver, Earth, Wind and Fire, Andy Gibb, Donna Summer, Rod Stewart, Olivia Newton-John, Abba, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge. Many of these stars appeared on a worldwide television special, aired in about 70 countries, which also benefited the fund.
The Bee Gees' donation was "Too Much Heaven," which also turned out to be the first number-one record of the year. It was a slow, lush ballad, and the first track off their new album, Spirits Having Flown. "We wanted to move in an R&B direction," said Barry, "still maintaining our lyric power, and our melody power as well. A lot of good rhythm is essential today. We want to keep our lyrics strong, and our melodies strong as well."
The phrase "Too Much Heaven" pretty much described the state the Bee Gees were in in 1979. Their previous album, Saturday Night Fever, had sold 25 million copies -- more than double any other album in history. Their annual earnings were over $50 million, topping the paychecks of Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, and Johnny Carson put together. From their start in the family basement in 1956, the Bee Gees had risen to the highest-paid stars in the world.
"A pop idol of today receives the same amount of attention as a pop idol of twenty years ago," said Barry. "But I think people expect more of an artist than they did before. It's surprising how many artists got through with very little to offer."
He explained the Bee Gees' longevity this way. "It's very simple, really. We've been able to adapt our music around various scenes. We saw the Beach Boys come; we were making records then. We saw Jan and Dean and 'Surf City' and the hootenanny craze and all that. The Beatles -- we saw them come. We were making records before the Beatles. We've seen so many phases and exciting times. We just change with them, and make our music for now."
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