Bee Gees Wiki

"I Started a Joke" is a song by the English rock band Bee Gees from their 1968 album Idea, which was released as a single in December of that year, following the release of the album in September. Curiously, it was not released as a single in the UK, where buyers who could not afford the album had to content themselves with a Polydor version by Heath Hampstead. This is Vince Melouney's last single with the Bee Gees to feature his guitar work as he left the band in early December after this song was released as a single.

The song's B-side was "Kilburn Towers", except in France, "Swan Song" was used. "I Started a Joke" was written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, and produced by them with Robert Stigwood Colin Petersen and Vince Melouney (as the Bee Gees).

Robin Gibb's son played "I Started a Joke" on his phone just after his father died from kidney failure on May 20, 2012. Robin-John Gibb told The Sun:

When he passed away we went out, they took the equipment away and we came back in, I picked up my phone and found "I Started a Joke" on YouTube and played it. I put the phone on his chest and that was the first time I broke down. I knew that song and its lyrics were perfect for that moment. That song will always have new meaning to me now.[1]

Writing and recording[]

The song is mainly written and sung by Robin Gibb. "I Started a Joke" is supposedly about someone who has done or said something horribly wrong, which results in feelings of social alienation. Another interpretation is that the song is sung from the point of view of the devil. Prior to performing the song onstage, Barry Gibb has remarked that one interpretation of the song is regarding the devil.

According to Robin Gibb, the melancholic melody of the song was inspired by the sounds on board an aeroplane:

"The melody to this one was heard aboard a British Airways Vickers Viscount about a hundred miles from Essen. It was one of those old four engine 'prop' jobs, that seemed to drone the passenger into a sort of hypnotic trance, only with this it was different. The droning, after a while, appeared to take the form of a tune, which mysteriously sounded like a church choir. So it was decided! We accosted the pilot, forced him to land in the nearest village and there; in a small pub, we finished the lyrics [with Barry]. Actually, it wasn't a village, it was the city, and it wasn't a pub, it was a hotel, and we didn't force the pilot to land in a field... but why ruin a perfectly good story?"[2]

Robin Gibb told The Mail on Sunday on November 1, 2009 about "I Started a Joke": "This is a very spiritual song. The listeners have to interpret it themselves, trying to explain it would detract from the song".[1]

Songs for the Idea album were completed on June 25 (except for the song "I've Gotta Get a Message to You" which was recorded on July 12 during the Odessa sessions). A few songs were given a little more work, the highlight being the last new song, "I Started A Joke", one of the Bee Gees' classics with its enigmatic and thought-provoking lyrics. It must have been newly composed, since Robin did not even include it on his demos of two weeks earlier.[3] Covered by O'Hara's Playboys on the Fontana label and also Heath Hampstead.

Musical structure[]

It was written by Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb. On the first verse of the song, the chords were: G, B minor, C and D and back to G, The chords at the song's refrain was E minor, B minor, C, G, B minor, E minor, A minor, D7. The chords on the second verse was same like the first verse. On the second verse refrain, it features the vocals work by Barry and Robin. The song's promotional video was on the television special called Idea.[4] Maurice is playing Rickenbacker 4001 and Vince Melouney playing Gibson ES-335. The song reached #1 in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, In Canada, it spent two weeks as the number one in RPM charts.[5]

According to music critic Bill Janovitz, on the line 'I started a joke' sings Robin in his fluttering voice, But obviously the Gibbs collectively do not even add up to anything in the same lyrical ballpark as Dylan.

Which started the whole world crying/But I didn't see/That the joke was on me/I started to cry which started the whole world laughing/Oh If I'd only seen that the joke was on me.

On the refrain, Janovitz says that there are some real laughable clunkers such as: I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes/And I fell out of bed hurting my head from things that I said. As well as on the last verse Till I finally died/Which started the whole world living, when Janovitz says that it suggest some sort of Christ metaphor, though it seems so vague. The narrator clearly has a messiah complex either way. But the melody does excuse all the other faults of the song.[6]

Chart performance[]

Chart (1969) Peak
Austrian Singles Chart[5] 16
Netherlands Dutch Top 40 Singles Chart[5] 3
Swiss Singles Chart[5] 5
United States Billboard Hot 100[7] 6
New Zealand RIANZ Charts 1
Australia Kent Music Report Charts 1
Canadian RPM Singles Chart 1

Appearances in other media[]

  • The song was parodied by a Radio Free Vestibule sketch in which a voiced-over commentary takes the lyrics completely literally.
  • The song appeared in the film Zoolander as covered by The Wallflowers.
  • The song is featured heavily in the ending of the film Penn & Teller Get Killed, which features the two magicians playing a succession of increasingly elaborate practical jokes on each other with a fatal conclusion.
  • The song was recited in The Fighter, when Dickie Eklund (Christian Bale) sings it in an attempt to console his mother Alice (Melissa Leo) following an attempt by him to hide his crack addiction.
  • The song appeared in a one of the sketches in MTV's The State comedy television show.

Cover versions[]

Faith No More version[]

Faith No More originally covered "I Started a Joke" as a b-side for their 1995 single "Digging the Grave". It also appeared on some versions of their fifth studio album King for a Day... Fool for a Lifetime but following the band's dissolution in 1998 it was released as their final single with their greatest hits album Who Cares a Lot?. The music video was filmed on 8 September 1998,[8] after Faith No More had disbanded and featured none of the band members except for Mike Patton in a brief cameo as "Michael from Barnsley". It was directed by Vito Rocco, filmed by Nick Sawyer with make-up by Julie Nightingale and Dani Richardson with Gabi Norland as the clapper-loader. British actors Martin Freeman and Shaun Dingwall both feature in the promo, along with performance artist David Hoyle as the karaoke singer, and also stars Michelle Butterly of the ITV series, Benidorm. Derren Litten, the writer of Benidorm and a contributor to The Catherine Tate Show, is also seen in the video.[8]

Track listing[]

Disc one
  1. "I Started a Joke" – 3:03
  2. "The World Is Yours" – 5:52
  3. "Midnight Cowboy" (Live) – 1:01
Disc two
  1. "I Started a Joke" – 3:03
  2. "This Guy's in Love with You" (Live) – 4:20
  3. "We Care a Lot" (Live) – 3:55

Live tracks recorded on 21 October 1997 at the Horden Pavilion, Sydney, Australia by MTV Australia.


Chart Peak
UK Singles Chart[9] 49
Australia ARIA Charts 58
New Zealand RIANZ Charts[10] 38

Other versions[]

  • In 1969, Richie Havens on his album Stonehenge with Havens on vocals and guitar, Eric Oxendine on bass and Bill LaVorgna on drums.[11]
  • In 1969, Lulu covered this song and released on Lulu's Album.[12]
  • In 1972, The Cascades released this song as a B-side of "Sweet America" on Can-Base Records.[13]
  • Ronnie Von had a Portuguese version, called Comecei uma Brincadeira and translated by himself, on his psychedelic-rock-album "A misteriosa Luta do Reino de Parassempre contra o Império de Nuncamais" from 1969.
  • Between 1972 and 1974, this song was covered by Singapore-based female singer Ervinna, backing music by The Stylers, on her LP album Top Hits with the local White Cloud Record.
  • Benny Mardones covered the song for his 1978 debut album Thank God for Girls.[14]
  • In 1996, Skibby did a reggae version of this song, which has been released as part of the sampler CD set "It's Reggae" in 1996.
  • Jamaica, a British R&B girl group included the song on their album, Sisters In Pain. Jamaica was Veronica 'Vee' Morris, Joyce Morris and Coral Spencer. The album was produced by Mickie Most.
  • In 1998, Robbie Williams with The Orb released on the Gotta Get A Message To You - A Tribute To The Bee Gees.
  • In 2001, The Wallflowers was featured in the Zoolander movie soundtrack.
  • In 2001, Shannon Wright covered the song on the EP Perishable Goods
  • Tim Rose on his 2004 album The London Sessions.
  • Artists like The Beautiful South, The Dirtbombs, Vonda Shepard, indie pop bands The Lucksmiths and Low, British singers Lulu and Kathryn Williams have also recorded covers of the song.
  • Low covered the song with Mimi Parker on vocals and released it in the A Lifetime of Temporary Relief boxset
  • There are several instrumental versions with Francis Goya on guitar in his album Romantic Guitar[15] and James Galway on flute in his 1988 Greatest Hits album.[16]
  • Ventriloquist Terry Fator sometimes performs an excerpt as part of his live show, generally following Stayin' Alive
  • Angela Chang, a popular Taiwanese singer, sang a cover of the song in her sixth studio album.
  • Comedian Neil Hamburger released a 7" single of his country-western version of the song, backed by Nashville guitarist Dave Gleason and members of The Tubes. A performance of the song also appears on his Western Music and Variety DVD.
  • Micheal Castaldo recorded an Italian version of the song on his 2010 album Aceto.
  • Pet Shop Boys covered the song for their 2012 single Winner as a tribute to Robin.
  • Barry Gibb featured the song on his 2013 Mythology tour. Barry sang the first verse of the song, then handed the vocal over to Robin, featured in a filmed performance.[17][18]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Template:Cite web
  2. p.188, Bee Gees Anthology, Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1991.
  3. Template:Cite web
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  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Template:Cite web
  6. Template:Cite web
  7. Template:Allmusic
  8. 8.0 8.1 Faith No More – "I Started a Joke". Retrieved on 1 June 2008
  9. page on Faith No More, retrieved on 27 January 2008
  10. Template:Cite web
  11. Template:Cite web
  12. Template:Cite web
  13. Template:Cite web
  14. Template:Cite web
  15. Francis Goya - The Belgian Pop & Rock Archives
  16. Sir James Galway-Discography