Jul 06

THE BEE GEES – “Massachusetts”

Popular29 comments • 5,653 views

#238, 14th October 1967

MassachusettesAn answer record of sorts to “San Francisco”, but this time a place – or placename – chosen for its delicious phonemes, not its youth-historical weight. So the longing that suffuses “Massachusetts” is really un-placed, and more dangerous for it. The Brothers Gibb mostly hold their harmonic clout in check, preferring to act as a niggling backing murmur, a tidal pull on the lonesome lead vocal.

The story in the song is confused – does he stay, does he go, who with – and so is the singer. His restlessness is clear enough, but vagueness surrounds him – there were “things” he wanted to do, “something” calls him back; but it can’t be put in words. Or can it? That final line – “And Massachusetts is one place I have…” – a pause, you expect “been”, you get “seen”. The difference between them is the sad heart of the record.



  1. 1
    koganbot on 5 Jul 2006 #

    Previously, “New York Mining Disaster”/”I Can’t See Nobody” had gone to #1 in about a week on WBZ in Boston – the DJs were marveling vociferously at how much the A side sounded like the Beatles (did it? I mean, it used harmonies and all, but it sounded more like… more like… THE BEE GEES) (B-side sounded like the Four Tops to my youthful ears, now it sounds more like, um, the Bee Gees in soul mode), so I decided that the song title “Massachusetts” was a way of saying Thank You and of solidifying a market. Problem is that “Massachusetts” rather blows in comparison to “New York Mining Disaster” – in comparison to anything the Bee Gees had hitherto released in the U.S., for that matter.

  2. 2
    Bruce on 17 Jul 2006 #

    I wrote this song in memory of Maurice Gibb:

    When the Bee Gees Were Three
    words and music by Dr. BLT (c)2006

    aka Dr. BLT
    The World’s First Blog ‘n’ Roll Artist

  3. 3
    Doctor Mod on 1 Aug 2006 #

    This recording gave me a strange epiphany of sorts at an early age, even if I didn’t know what to do with it. Hearing “Massachusetts” made me realize that what one finds “exotic” is a matter of where one is, both geographically and psychologically. I really couldn’t figure out why anyone was romanticizing Massachusetts–I still can’t, other than to say that it must have been “one place [they] have been/seen” only in passing. Was it the name that sounded intriguing to these Anglo-Aussies? But then Americans probably could wax romantically on English (or Australian) place names (Salford? A town called Alice?) because [i]they[/i] were not [i]there[/i]. Oh well, the English have traditionally exoticized the Italians, and vice-versa. How else do we account for operas with titles like [i]I Puritani[/i] or [i]Emilia di Liverpool[/i]?

    But what always perplexed me was the fact that the lights DIDN’T go out in Massachusetts–they went out in NEW YORK. And what does a power outage have to do with the separated lovers in this song anyway?

    But hey–the song’s (kind of) pretty, isn’t it?

  4. 4
    otherdeb on 8 Aug 2006 #

    This song always felt a little creepy to me. Still does. Can;t put my finget on why, though.

  5. 5
    irasema on 11 Jun 2007 #

    hi my name is irasema and my dad is a person who like you so much and me to

    love you gies

  6. 6
    Leoni on 2 Aug 2008 #

    Makes me feel homesick for Massachusetts and I’ve never freakin been there!!!!!

  7. 7
    George on 2 Aug 2008 #

    This is a beautiful song. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

  8. 8
    wichita lineman on 3 Aug 2008 #

    Putting myself in the mindset of Robin, on lead and aged 17 when he sang this, who had been hurried between the isle of Man, Manchester, Australia, and then on a weeks-long boat trip back to Southampton… well, I can imagine both San Francisco and Massachussets sounded pretty exotic. They even even pulled off the same wistful, homesick trick with the grotty north London suburb of Kilburn on their third album.

    This has that no.1 inevitability about it; the portentous arrangement, the lack of danger their previous 45s had, the almost audible stamp of BBC approval (I do like it, by the way). Then again Words, which I’m not so fond of, had the same in spades and sounds like it should’ve been no.1 for 8 weeks all over the world but only came remotely close in Gibb-crazy Germany.

  9. 9
    Waldo on 9 Nov 2009 #

    Even after all these years, I still have never been able to work out why the Bee Gees are singing about a state and not a town or city. Indeed I have been to Massachusetts but only to Boston and Cambridge and I would not presume to tie up the rest of the state on the back of those visits. Now had them pesky Gibbs been singing about Tooting Broadway, we’d be on. The lights are always going down in that fucking toilet. Not a great record for me. I’m afraid.

  10. 10
    lonepilgrim on 10 Nov 2009 #

    This is one of the first songs that I can remember being affected by emotionally as a child – possibly because of it’s keening harmonies and the vaguely Celtic melancholy of the melody. Mind you, I was similarly stirred by ‘Climb every mountain’ from The Sound of Music at the time so it wasn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.

    re 9 I also have fond childhood memories of Tooting, where my grandparents lived, and recall visits to the palatial Tooting Granada cinema – before it became a bingo hall.

    For fans of the Bee Gees, here are some rarities:

  11. 11
    Yasmine Ali on 22 Jul 2010 #

    The brothers have said, over the years, that they simply liked the way the word sounded. Apparently they were on their first visit to the States and were so excited that they wrote this song as a hommage of sorts, I guess. It was written either on a boat in N.Y. harbour or in a hotel in the same city, or both. It was also, vaguely, an anti flower power song about someone having left to go to San Francisco (to join up with the hippies there, I guess) and coming back to/longing for Massachusetts.

  12. 12
    Lena on 8 Nov 2011 #

    And at #2, in their back garden: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/11/fantastic-move-flowers-in-rain.html Merci for reading, everyone!

  13. 13
    Lena on 14 Nov 2011 #

    And in another backyard: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/11/backyard-trip-traffic-hole-in-my-shoe.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  14. 14
    Lena on 14 Nov 2011 #

    Lyrics eat themselves: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/11/language-of-love-dave-dee-dozy-beaky.html Gracias to all reading!

  15. 15
    Billy Smart on 5 Dec 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: The Bee Gees performed Massachusetts on Top Of The Pops on four occasions;

    28 September 1967. Also in the studio that week were; Procol Harum, The Dubliners and The Herd. Alan Freeman was the host.

    5 October 1967. Also in the studio that week were; Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch, The Barron Knights and The Herd. Alan Freeman was the host.

    19 October 1967. Also in the studio that week were; John Walker, The Foundations, The Herd and Val Doonican. Jimmy Savile and Tony Blackburn were the hosts.

    26 December 1967. Also in the studio that Boxing Day were; Englebert Humperdinck, Long John Baldry, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch, Lulu, Cliff Richard and Procol Harum, plus The Go Jo’s interpretation of ‘Reflections Of My Life’. Jimmy Savile, Alan Freeman and Pete Murray were the hosts.

    Only the Christmas edition survives.

  16. 16
    punctum on 6 Dec 2011 #

    Bill, could you maybe do this at a slower pace please, say one a day, instead of clogging up the timeline with tons of TOTPWatches. Sorry but when I’m trying to find something more recent on FT at a glance it’s becoming impossible and a teensy weensy bit irritating. Thanks.

  17. 17
    wichita lineman on 6 Dec 2011 #

    This is invaluable info – could you slow it down so an old person like me has time to take it in? Thanks Billy.

    I’m surprised, sort of, by the lack of non-hits – does this mean TOTP had more selling power in the 60s than, say, 1976? Or just that even primetime telly couldn’t fool the people into buying Philip and Vanessa’s Two Sleepy People.


    (is Philip inferring that he killed her father at 1.02?)

  18. 18
    Billy Smart on 6 Dec 2011 #

    Oops, sorry! Yes, collating these is the sort of exercise that I end up doing in a great block when I’m too ill to manage anything else that requires much in the way of concentrated thought… not though I need to post them all at the same time, its true.

    I too am surprised by how few non-hits the 1960s editions included. The big change seems to occur when the show was extended to 40 minutes in 1970, the extra time filled up with speculative bookings from new releases, the album charts and visiting stars, a policy that went on for the rest of the seventies, even when the running time went back down to half an hour.

  19. 19
    Mark G on 6 Dec 2011 #

    The thing is with the 1976 reruns so far, is the context offered by what else was around and the environment of presentation, to show how great something appears.

    For example, you would never see Tarney and Spencer’s song on a ‘highlights’ show, or The Chanter Sisters, but here they are, being ‘not bad’ really.

    When Thin Lizzy appeared, performing “The Boys are back in town”, it’s always looked like a classic. But inamongst the ‘ok-ish’ other hits of the week, you can see to what extent! That even though the song in isolation hasn’t dated at all, in the days when the top 30 rundown got represented by blurry photos of the acts (unless a photo wasn’t available), it does seem an awful long time ago.

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 6 Dec 2011 #

    Quite right. I think these re-runs are an incredible piece of social history. Anyone who tweets (and there are LOADS every week) saying “what a load of crap” is really missing the point.

    Look at the ’67 line ups. If those programmes still existed and were being shown in their entirety, people would be moaning about DDDBM&T and the Trems, who seem to be on every other week. And how much would Jimi Hendrix stand out! Mind boggling.

    By the way Billy, I really appreciate the time your putting into the TOTP listings. What the heck is that Barron Knights song?

  21. 21
    Mark G on 6 Dec 2011 #

    Here Come The Bees, apparently.

    (“Apparently” is not part of the title.)

    Maybe the same song as on the b-side of Rolf Harris’ “Pukka Chicken”, unless there are two songs called “Here come the bees”.

    *edit* Yep, one GIS later, it’s the same song. Not comedy, as such.

  22. 22
    Weej on 6 Dec 2011 #

    “Not comedy, as such.” – The song, or the Barron Knights in general?

  23. 23
    Moarie on 3 Jun 2012 #

    This song is dangerous in seemingly having locked into ancient secrets of homesickness authenticity, viz. Red River Valley. Straight away from lyrical surface you know it’s a load of overloading hokum, i.e. referring to an entire chunk of state/province instead of a smaller municipal area, a strip, house or single street even (or washing drying in the backyard, for 70s-appropriate “dreamy” photographs of memory.) BUT that’s perhaps its weapon. The apparently effective artifice, forces you to judge personal notions of rootedness and rootlessness – such huge part of the Gibb story (to the point different camps stay claiming them to their locality.) And as always, the truth couldn’t be more simple enough: Home is where one says it is, and especially so when appropriating the vocal styling of Red River Valley’s ilk – a time honored, unquestionably accepted idiom that instantly evokes the needs and mechanisms of creating one’s very myth of belonging.

  24. 24
    lonepilgrim on 5 Feb 2013 #

    The Bee-Gees are getting the OneWeekOneBand treatment at the moment at http://oneweekoneband.tumblr.com/tagged/Bee-Gees

  25. 25
    mapman132 on 16 Feb 2014 #

    As someone who’s been to both San Francisco and Massachusetts numerous times, it’s notable that one song works for me while the other does not. “San Francisco” is unsurprisingly the one that works. Perhaps it’s because I’ve heard it in conjunction with photo montages of SF or perhaps it’s because it’s further from home for my East Coast self and therefore seems more “exotic”, but “SF” conjures up images of the location (at least how I envision it being in 1967) that “Mass” does not. “Mass” isn’t a bad song per se, but the geographic title doesn’t fit.

    Of course, this makes me wonder what a song about Massachusetts is supposed to sound like anyway? To compare, I just listened to Arlo Guthrie’s song about the same state and it didn’t quite work for me either. I think the problem is that some geographic locations/regions have a coherent identity that can be used in an artistic statement while others can’t. Up above someone noted the choice of using a state in a song rather than a city, but there’s been plenty of successful songs about California, Texas, etc. In the case of Mass, I think its position as New England’s most populous, diverse, and overall dominant state somewhat precludes it as being a “region” in the same way. You could successfully write a song about Boston, Cape Cod, or the Berkshires maybe but not the state as a whole. Anyway, I just find this phenomenon interesting as a geographer.

    Oh and just to tie three consecutive song reviews into one: “The Last Waltz” is total crap :P

  26. 26
    koganbot on 16 Feb 2014 #

    Well, “New York Mining Disaster” had zero to do with anyone’s image of New York, either city or state, and works for me way better than this just for being a riveting, dramatic song that matches the Beatles’ harmonies for weird tingliness while also having an ear to soul music.

    When “New York Mining Disaster” by the then-unknown-in-America Bee Gees came out, The DJs at WBZ in Boston were taken by it, talked it up, played it incessantly, said “Sounds so much like the Beatles, but isn’t,” and the song jumped to number one on their chart in a single week (which was something pretty much only the Beatles managed in the pre-Soundscan Sixties in America). As “Mining Disaster” only got to number 14 nationally, I wondered, when the Bee Gees released “Massachusetts” several singles later, if the title was meant to give them further attention in Boston, where they already knew they had an in. I still wonder if this might not have been the reason.

    Like Tom, I think the song is basically unplaced and right to be unplaced, so the state’s nonassociations with much of anything in the almost 200 years since the shot heard round the world are an advantage. Trouble is that the song is blah compared to anything they’d introduced on the amazing Bee Gees’ 1st, and doesn’t get near the desperate teenage aching soul hysteria of “To Love Somebody” and “I Can’t See Nobody.” Of course it was their biggest hit to date, so my vaunted inability prior to Crayon Pop to be in touch with the popular pulse anywhere had an early beginning.

    But Tom’s appreciation of this song makes me appreciate it a bit more.

  27. 27
    Lazarus on 30 Sep 2017 #

    It’s the 50th birthday of Radios One and Two today, as you may have heard … listening to Tony Blackburn re-presenting his original show I discover that this was the second record played on Radio One, the Move not making it to the top and having to settle for a little bit of broadcasting history instead. Engelbert featured early on as well; quite why anyone thought that the Kids of ’67 wanted to hear The Last Waltz is a mystery at this remove, but, maybe some of them did!

  28. 28
    Jimmy the Swede on 3 Oct 2017 #

    #27 – The simple reason Bannockburn played “The Last Waltz” was that it was number one that day. In all fairness, Engelbert should have been first up. The day was all about number one and indeed Tony’s initial greeting opening the new station had been preceded by George Martin’s brilliant Theme Number One, which was also faithfully repeated on Saturday. But someone, presumably under thirty, persuaded the suits that they needed something more “groovy” as the first record on what the BBC realised was a station for kids. It was a good decision. What could be more 1967 than a song about flowers? It was a great choice. What surprised me most in hearing that first show again (I say again because I am sure that as a six year-old with a near ten year-old brother, I most certainly would have done) was when Tony played “Fakin’ It” by Simon and Garfunkel. I always remembered this as an album track, again due to my brother being a huge S&G fan and getting all their albums, which I wired myself into too. But Tony told us it was their new single. Well, so it was but it didn’t chart here.

  29. 29
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    A really pleasant and sweeping track from the Gibbs. 7/10 for me.

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