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Early Bee Gees Hit Takes On “Flower Power”

The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which was primarily composed and performed by the Bee Gees, was so successful that it has dominated perceptions of the band. Indeed, Saturday Night Fever was the highest selling album ever to that point. To this day, there are Bee Gees fans who associate the band with the disco era of the late 1970s.

Massachusetts was the Bee Gees first big international hit. It was originally released as Massachusetts (The Lights Went Out In) in the UK in 1967. Subsequent releases abandoned the sub-title. Written by brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, the song featured Robin on lead vocals.

While it peaked at No.11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, Massachusetts topped the charts in thirteen countries including the UK. The version of the song in the video linked above was recorded live in Melbourne in 1989 on the One For All Tour, which included the United States, Europe, and Asia. Notably, One for All was the band’s first world tour in ten years.

Massachusetts was written as a riposte to “flower power” anthems eulogising San Francisco, which were popular at the time. The lights having gone out in Massachusetts is a reference to the number of young people who had left for San Fransisco. In the Bee Gees’ song, the protagonist has joined the hippie migration, only to feel homesick for his home in Massachusetts. The video below shows the fresh-faced Gibb brothers on the cusp of their early fame.

Interestingly, the Bee Gees had never been to Massachusetts when they wrote the song. They were drawn to the unusual sound of the name, in particular the number of S’s.

Formed in 1958 by Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb, The Bee Gees career can be divided into four periods. 1. The folk-pop period before the mid-1970s. 2. 1975-1979 when the band started playing R&B, then disco, and Barry discovered his signature falsetto. This was the height of the band’s popularity (Saturday Night Fever contained several Bee Gees tracks which topped singles charts around the World, notably Night Fever and Staying Alive). 3. The end of 1979 marked a rapid decline in the popularity of disco, and with it the Bee Gees. 4. From about 1989, the Bee Gees fortunes turned as the band achieved elder statesmen status, and, on occasion, released music that charted.

Maurice Gibb died from an unexpected heart attack in January 2003, at age 53. The surviving brothers occasionally performed as the Bee Gees in Maurice’s memory until Robin became too ill to perform after February 2012. Robin Gibb died in May 2012.