Published on July 15, 2016
“Massachusetts” is a song by the Bee Gees, released in 1967. Written by Barry, Robin & Maurice Gibb. Robin Gibb sang lead vocals on this song and it would become one of his staple songs to perform during concerts on both Bee Gees and his solo concerts. It later appeared on their 1968 album, Horizontal.
It was their first No. 1 hit in Australia and the UK and eventually became one of the best-selling singles of all time, selling over five million copies worldwide. When the brothers wrote the song, they had never been to Massachusetts.In a UK television special on ITV in December 2011, it was voted third (behind “How Deep Is Your Love” and “You Win Again”) in “The Nation’s Favourite Bee Gees Song”.
The song was written in the Regis Hotel, New York City during a tour of the United States. The song was intended as an antithesis to flower power anthems of the time such as “Let’s Go to San Francisco” and “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” in that the protagonist had been to San Francisco to join the hippies but was now homesick. The idea of the lights having gone out in Massachusetts was to suggest that everyone had gone to San Francisco.
There are two different memories, Robin remembers us doing it in a boat going around New York. And I remember us checking in at the St. Regis with Robert, going to the suite, and while the bags were being brought in we were so high on being in New York, that’s how ‘Massachusetts’ began. I think we were strumming basically the whole thing, and then I think we went on a boat round New York. I don’t know if we finished it, but I think that’s where the memories collide. Everybody wrote it. All three of us were there when the song was born.
— Barry Gibb
The song was originally intended for The Seekers. Upon arriving in London from Australia (following in the path of the Seekers who had arrived several years earlier) the Bee Gees had been unsuccessful in getting the song to the group, so they recorded it themselves. During a chance meeting in London between the Seekers’ lead singer Judith Durham and Maurice Gibb, Durham learned that “Massachusetts” was originally intended for her group and in 2003 the Seekers recorded the song as a tribute to Maurice following his death earlier that year. The Bee Gees had never actually been to Massachusetts when they recorded this; they just liked the sound of the name. Robin Gibb explained about “Massachusetts” in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh:
“We have never been there but we loved the word and there is always something magic about American place names. It only works with British names if you do it as a folk song. Roger Whittaker did that with Durham Town.” [Robin Gibb also recalled to The Mail on Sunday on 1 November 2009]: “This was a bittersweet victory. The day it went to number one it was Bonfire Night and I was in the Hither Green rail crash in Lewisham. Forty-nine people died and it was one of Britain’s worst rail disasters. Luckily I didn’t get injured. I remember sitting at the side of the carriage, watching the rain pour down, fireworks go off and blue lights of the ambulances whirring. It was like something out of a Spielberg film. I thought, at least there is one consolation, we have our first UK number one.”