Spirits Having Flown is the fifteenth album released by the Bee Gees. It was the group's first album after their collaboration on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. The album's first three tracks were released as singles which all went to no.1 in the US giving them an unbroken run of six US chart-toppers tying with The Beatles. It was also the first Bee Gees album to make the UK top 40 in ten years (not counting the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever), as well as being their first and only UK No.1 album. It has sold 16 million copies worldwide.
The title track (which, unlike the album title, includes parentheses) was also released as a single in the UK and a few other countries in December 1979. It reached No. 16 in the UK chart in January 1980, but its relatively low chart position and its somewhat limited release means that, although it is a well-known track, it is often absent from Bee Gees greatest hits compilations. The exception was Bee Gees Greatest released in 1979 (for which the single was issued to promote).
Spirits Having Flown marked the tail end of the band's most successful era, prior to a severe downturn in the early 1980s when they would endure a near-total radio blackout (particularly in America) that Robin Gibb would refer to as "censorship" and "evil" in interviews.
Co-producer Albhy Galuten recalls Spirits Having Flown as being created primarily by Barry Gibb, Karl Richardson and himself putting in long days and nights at Criteria Studios. Blue Weaver recalls others being involved. Both agree that Robin Gibb was active behind the scenes in songwriting and offering feedback to the recording process, but Maurice Gibb contributed probably the least he did on any Bee Gees album. Not only was his alcoholism sapping his creativity, but he was having back pains finally diagnosed in 1980 as caused by a bad disk.
In the recording phase, Robin and Maurice now mainly played the role of backing and harmony vocalists, and even in that capacity Barry did many of the vocal dubs himself as he went over and over the recorded work. Robin contributed one lead vocal ("Living Together") which was sung in falsetto with Barry providing alternating lead vocals in his normal register. This was Robin's least amount of lead vocals on any Bee Gees album with the exception of 1970's Cucumber Castle, for which he was not part of the group at that time. As with the last four Bee Gees albums, Maurice did not have any lead vocals.
The Bee Gees had been effectively typecast as a disco group after Saturday Night Fever, and in a 1978 interview Barry remarked "People think we're just about disco now. Of course that's not true. If you look at the SNF soundtrack, there's some dance music, but we also have ballads like More Than A Woman." In an attempt to counter this typecasting, the first single from Spirits Having Flown was the ballad "Too Much Heaven". The horn section from Chicago (James Pankow, Walt Parazaider and Lee Loughnane) made a guest appearance on this album. At the time, they were next door working on the Chicago album Hot Streets. Thus the Bee Gees would return the favour as they appeared on Chicago's song "Little Miss Lovin'" and their keyboardist Blue Weaver appeared on "No Tell Lover". The Bee Gees also recorded "Desire" for the album but it was rejected and instead released as a solo single by their brother Andy Gibb.
The eagerly-anticipated Spirits Having Flown was released in February 1979, with full page ads in Billboard magazine and Rolling Stone, which gave the album a lengthy, but positive review. It topped the album charts in several countries, including both the U.S. and the U.K. Its three singles "Tragedy", "Too Much Heaven" and "Love You Inside Out" all topped the charts in the US. It was also the first Bee Gees album to make a noticeable presence on the UK charts in a decade. In the US, it notably got airplay on black music stations, vindicating the group's stated mission of "blue-eyed soul". They also embarked on a lavish US tour in 1979 to promote the album, which marked the final climax of their commercial success before declining in popularity during the coming years. The album sold 16 million copies worldwide.