“I Started a Joke” by Bee Gees
The lyrics of “I Started a Joke” do not particularly make sense. They sprang from an era in which, according to Barry Gibb, psychedelic music was all the rage, and accordingly fans had a tendency to derive meanings from songs by popular artists “even if it sounded ridiculous”.
Well we won’t go as far as to say that this piece sounds ridiculous, as some analysts have in fact been able to in fact derive some pretty complex meanings from it. But in the grand scheme of things, it may be that they’re fulfilling Andy’s prediction more so than anything else.
Well actually later down the line, Robin Gibb did state that “this is a very spiritual song”, on top of implying that listeners are tasked with interpreting it themselves. And with that in mind, yes, admittedly there is sort of a discernible storyline. And that revolves around, most simply put, the notion of the vocalist having concluded that he made a fool of himself, in front of the entire world, via this unspecified “joke” that he has “started”.
Indeed in addition to incorporating “the whole world” into this equation, the vocalist also gets to singing about ‘finally dying’ – apparently through this joke he told – and all types of stuff. And once you start bringing life and death into the mix, that happens to be a whole ‘nother can of worms as far as potential analyses go.
So in conclusion, we will speculate that the titular joke may well be this song in and of itself. In other words, the Bee Gees know that it may sound very serious to some listeners, but at the same time they’re also aware that nothing consequential is actually being relayed.
Moreover, since we’re dealing with a track in which a number of colorful interpretations have already been offered, we can offer one of our own by speculating that the references to death contained therein allude to the fear that this song wouldn’t be received well, as at the time the Bee Gees weren’t necessarily as established as they would become later.
When was “I Started a Joke” released?
Bee Gees is an act that had actually been around since the late 1950s. This song dates back to one of their earlier projects, the group’s fifth-studio album, “Idea”. More specifically, “I Started a Joke” was issued as the second single from that LP on the date of 21 December 1968.
As you likely already know, the Bee Gees’ heyday is considered to have been during the late 1970s, i.e. when they spearheaded “Saturday Night Fever”, which is considered one of the greatest movie soundtracks of all-time. But the brothers also experienced notable success before that era. For instance, “I Started a Joke” topped music charts in five different countries, including Canada. It also made it onto the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 and overall charted in nearly 20 nations.
It has been pointed out that this song marks the final single which the Bee Gees dropped with guitarist Vince Melouney in tow, who was once an official member of the band. In fact at one point during the late 1960s (i.e. around the time this track was released), the Bee Gees were actually five members’ deep.
But this song was written by the trio who would continue to hold down the brand into the 21st century, that being Barry Gibb and his twin brothers, Maurice (1949-2003) and Robin (1949-2012) Gibb.
This was the last song recorded for “Idea”. And Robin Gibb derived initial inspiration for this track from a melody he heard aboard an airplane.
There is an official (promotional) video to this track, as compiled to be featured on a 1968 TV special the Bee Gees put together to promote “Idea” and as directed by Jean-Christophe Averty (1928-2017).
Popular Covers of “I Started a Joke”
Artists who have covered this song throughout the years include:
- Faith No More (1998)
- Robbie Williams alongside The Orb (1998)
- The Wallflowers (2001)
- The Pet Shop Boys