“Jive Talkin'” is a song by the Bee Gees, which hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached the top-five on the UK singles chart in the summer of 1975. Largely recognized as the group’s “comeback” song, it was their first U.S. top ten hit since “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” in 1971.
The song was originally called “Drive Talking”. The song’s rhythm was modeled after the sound a car would make crossing the Biscayne Bay into Miami. Producer Arif Mardin wished to market the song toward the teen market, and suggested the change to “Jive Talkin'” (the phrase “jive talkin'”, slang for “telling lies”, was a popular colloquialism at the time). Barry Gibb wrote the song and then had to fix the lyrics upon completion because he had assumed “jive talkin'” referred to “speaking in jive”, a then-popular term for African-American Vernacular English. All actual “talking jive” references were fixed so they meant “lying”.
The song was originally called “Drive Talking”. The song’s rhythm was modelled after the sound their car made crossing the Julia Tuttle Causeway each day from Biscayne Bay to Criteria Studios in Miami.
Recording for “Jive Talkin‘” took place on 30 January and 2 February 1975. The scratchy guitar intro was done by Barry and the funky bass line by Maurice. The pulsing synthesiser bass line, which featured in the final recording, was (along with the pioneering work of Stevie Wonder) one of the earliest uses of “synth bass” on a pop recording. It was overdubbed by keyboardist Blue Weaver using a then state-of-the-art ARP 2600, which producer Arif Mardin had brought in for the recording of the Main Course album. Weaver stated, “Usually Maurice would play bass guitar, but he was away from the studio that night. And when Maurice came back, we let him hear it and suggested he re-record the bass line on his bass guitar”. “I really liked the synth bass lines”, Maurice said. “I overdubbed certain sections to add bass extra emphasis”.
“Jive Talkin‘” was also influenced by “You’re the One” (written by Sly Stone) by Little Sister.
According to Maurice, while hearing this rhythmic sound, “Barry didn’t notice that he’s going ‘Ji-Ji Jive Talkin’ ‘, thinking of the dance, ‘You dance with your eyes’…that’s all he had…exactly 35 mph…that’s what we got.” He goes on to say, “We played it to [producer] Arif [Mardin], and he went ‘Do you know what “Jive Talkin‘” means?’ And we said ‘Well yeah, it’s, ya know, you’re dancing.’ He says ‘NO…it’s a black expression for bullshitting.’ And we went ‘Oh, Really?!? Jive talkin’, you’re telling me lies…’ and changed it.” Maurice goes on to describe how Arif gave them “the groove, the tempo, everything.” Robin Gibb then goes on to mention that, because they were English, they were less self-conscious about going into the “no-go areas”, referring to musical styles that were more black in styles, etc. He then said, “We didn’t think that there was any ‘no go’ areas, it’s music!” Barry’s guitar strumming has a smoother version of Kool and the Gang‘s signature chicka-chicka and funky Nassau version of KC and the Sunshine Band‘s Caribbean strumming. The song’s rhythm riff perhaps from “Shirley & Company‘s “Shame, Shame, Shame“, with a prominent use of the Bo Diddley beat.
“Jive Talkin‘” is a stuttering song like The Who‘s “My Generation“, David Bowie‘s “Changes“, Elton John‘s “Bennie and the Jets” and Bob Seger‘s “Katmandu“.
After hearing “Jive Talkin‘“, Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, and co-producer Dashut built up the song “Second Hand News” (released on the band’s Rumours in 1977) with four audio tracks of electric guitar and the use of chair percussion to evoke Celtic rock.