A couple of posts ago, as I wrote about Scott McKenzie’s ‘San Francisco’, I made a big deal about #1 hits that reference places, and how uncommon they were. Of course, just to prove me wrong, the charts now throw up a song about Massachusetts.
Massachusetts (The Lights Went Out In), by The Bee Gees (their 1st of five #1s)
4 weeks, from 11th October – 8th November 1967
And that’s not all that this next chart-topper has in common with McKenzie’s hit. It also, you know, sounds a lot like it. The same light guitar and the same chimes. The same chilled-out vibes. It even references San Fran in the second verse. It’s the (Indian) Summer of Love! Is it harsh to suggest that The Bee Gees were simply jumping on the hippy bandwagon?
Actually, yeah, it would be harsh. This is a retort to songs like ‘San Francisco’. It’s being sung from the point of view of someone who has left his home, in Massachusetts, to join in the summer’s festivities, and who now feels a bit homesick. Feel I’m going back to Massachusetts, Something’s telling me, I must go home… He left his girl standing alone, as the lights all went down in Massachusetts… But he’s now seen the error of his ways: They brought me back, To see my way with you…
It’s an interesting concept, and a quick piece of song writing to get the record out and in the charts mere weeks after the hits that it references. It turns what I initially felt was a so-so, slightly bland song into one worthy of note. The lights are going down in Massachusetts because everybody’s buggering off to the West Coast! I will remember Massachusetts… I wonder if the Massachusetts Tourist Board have ever used it in an ad campaign?
Moving on – largely because ‘Massachusetts’ is a really difficult word to keep typing – let’s take a look at the band. The debutants atop the UK Singles Chart. The Bee Gees. You know, the band that in a decade’s time will take disco to the masses. I think that’s the ‘Bee Gees’ that most people think of: jumpsuits and sparkles and you should be dancing… It’s there in this record, mainly in the vocal harmonies that tremble a little higher than your regular pop record. (Though Robin Gibb sang lead on this one, while Barry sang falsetto on most of their seventies hits.)
They’re a fascinating band, actually. They will spread their five chart-toppers over exactly twenty years, covering three completely different versions of themselves, in terms of sound and image. But they’re not a band I’ve ever really been able to love, and I wish I could like their debut #1 more than I do… (Personally I think their final #1 is by far the best of the five.)
Anyway, they will be back soon enough. In between this and their next #1, they will release ‘Words’, which I can look on fondly as one of the first songs I ever learned to play on keyboard. Other interesting, and less self-revolving, bits of trivia about sixties-era Bee Gees include the fact that none of them had ever actually been to Massachusetts – they just liked the sound of it, and the fact that it was about as far away from San Francisco as you can get on the continental USA. (The Bee Gees, of course, weren’t American – they’re British/Australian.) And… I really like this one… ‘Massachusetts’ was the first ever non-Japanese #1 single on the Japanese charts! How about that…