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I Started A Joke

by

Bee Gees



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

This song is about someone who has done or said something horribly wrong, which resulted in alienating everyone around him. It's a great example of lyrical songwriting, and very much a love-it-or-hate-it song. With the opening line, "I started a joke, which started the whole world crying," followed with "I started to cry, which set the whole world laughing," the song can be heard as achingly poignant or overly sentimental, depending on your mindset.
The Wallflowers covered this for the 2001 movie Zoolander. It's used in a scene where Derek Zoolander is confused about winning an award that wasn't his. (thanks, Greyham - Comox, B.C.)
This was famously covered by Faith No More and released as their last single, after the band already split up. They covered the song in 1995. It was released as a bonus track on the album King For A Day Fool For A Lifetime in Argentina in 1995 and as a B-side of the UK and European Limited edition versions of the "Digging The Grave" CD single, which came out February 28, 1995. London Records released it as a single after Faith No More split up in 1998. The music video was made by the London Records 90 Ltd. with no creative input from the then defunct band.

Faith No More decided to cover the song after hearing it at a Karaoke bar in Guam, which used pornographic backdrops for the lyric screens. The band felt it was a bizarre melding and decided to record the song in bassist Billy Gould's basement. (Thanks to Chris in Abercwmpepsin, United Kingdom for the info and to Billy Gould for confirming it.)
Robin Gibb told The Mail On Sunday November 1, 2009: "This is a very spiritual song. The listeners have to interpret it themselves – trying to explain it would detract from the song."
The song wasn't released in the UK as a single. These days just about anything that's a hit in the US will get a release in the UK, especially if the artist is of British origin, but it wasn't the case in late 60s.
This song features in a scene during the 2010 movie The Fighter, which is about the boxer Micky Ward. In the movie, Micky's brother Dicky sings it to their mother to comfort her, which works as she begins singing the song.
Robin Gibb's son played this song 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."
Bee Gees
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Comments (29):

On December 15th 1968 "I Started A Joke" by the Bee Gees entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on February 2nd it peaked at #6 (for 1 week) and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
On January 20th, 1969 it reached #1 (for 2 weeks) on the Canadian RPM Singles chart, then one month later on February 22nd it peaked at #1 (again for 2 weeks) on the Australian Kent Music Report chart...
R.I.P. Maurice (1949 - 2003) and Robin (1949 - 2012).
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
Robin didn't like to explain his lyrics as he felt it took away from what people 'got' from the songs.
- Jinny, Brighton , United Kingdom
This song is one of those living things whose meaning vary according to its listeners. It heavily depends on the listener's life experiences, which is great for the emotional value a song, for it's something anyone can relate to, one way or another. For me, it's about unrequited love. The joke the narrator speaks of, it's the naive illusions from the start, which grow into something sad and unwanted. After the rejection, the loved one and everybody else goes on with their lives without giving the matter any more attention, while the narrator remains heartbroken. BTW, great melody. It's a nice, nice song.
- Victor, Cádiz, Spain
This song is about a doomed relationship.
- George, Glen Burnie, MD
I believe the song "I Started a Joke" is about Adolph Hitler, or anyone else who has similar designs on a large scale to control and manipulate free human beings by attempting to destroy their inherent human liberty and dignity and reduce them to slaves of the state while equating them to ordinary pack animals. I guess to Adolph, it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.
- Bill, Drexel Hill, PA
I always hear this song when I childhood..and I want to hear this song again and again...until I will die sometimes and I was memories to my family..
- jun misugi, bandung, Indonesia
I dunno perhaps songs like poems are the guides in our soul, marking a specific imaginary region where one's thoughts and heart clicked at the same time. I missed my girlfriend terribly when barely 19 I was headed to Vietnam, didn't know if I'd make it. And she wrote to me about this song. Still remember it playing in the NCO club (bar) at base after a few beers. It seemed that she was right next to me whispering the words in my ear. I Started a Joke is pretty heavy, I know it. Thanks, BeeGees, it kept the unrealness of the times be a bit more good and true.
- Alika, Houston, TX
Any art has to elicit some feeling or emotion. An atmospheric song such as this will do just that, especially if it is being played in an atmospheric situation, perhaps driving home late at night, or in a quiet street overheard on somebody's tranny. In these situations the meaning of the lyrics is in the head of the listener, I think as a piece of art it is doing its job. It is a beautiful song and I hope Robin and Barry continue to sing it.
- Leo, Aberystwyth, United Kingdom
Hi all. Denise from lakeland, FL thanks for telling me about the song 'Holiday' it is really awesome and I think under rated. I love the song 'Words' it hard to beat. Also my all time favourite by Aussie band 'Hunters & Collectors' 'Throw your arms around me' you need to source the original song from their original album as it has been re-released and re-re-released and the newer versions whilst still great lack it's soul and haunting appeal.
- Brad, Gold Coast, Australia
This is what I make of the song...over analyzing as usual, but I live for this moments.
ABOUT SONG:
Said something he heard to someone about someone, but only to find out the something was about him (the someone)
Realizing that the gossip/joke was actually about him...
Looking up at the heavens for help and asking, "Why?" while wiping the tears from his eyes (frustration) Knocked from his pedestal, beating himself up (remorse )for spreading the rumor/joke about himself
He accepted the fact that he was the joke & so went on living, but is constantly reminding himself ' think before you talk about others"

-Vince, South Africa
- Vince, Despatch, South Africa
Hey guys/girls (us). This song answers the age old question of why we are here and how did it happen? Scientists tell us the "Big Bang" created us. This song tells us why. God wanted to know himself. So he exploded himself and started this huge joke that we know as life. There is nothing to be done, it has already been done and here we are! Enjoy it. P.
- Peerless, Portland, OR
When I was young this song made me had felling deeply in my heart....
Five Saigon
- Five, Sai gon, Viet Nam
regarding the bee gees they are probably joint 2nd in line with jagger/richards as the most accomplished singer/songwriters of 20th century- lennon/mcCartney being no.1
- gary, watford, United Kingdom
i also really liked the bee gees song entitled holiday. i too agree with the person who wrote that this was a very haunting song that reminded us of when we were kids. he could not of put it any better. denise esposito
- denise, lakeland, FL
i really like this song, and i totally agree with the person who commented that it reminded her of the trials and tribulations of jesus christ. i feel the same way. denise esposito.
- denise, lakeland, FL
Ok, so maybe I live in a different more spiritual world, but I alway thought this song as about Jesus. It makes sense to me and that's all that matters, very profound
- I, florida(not a city), FL
I think the comment by Kirsten of N.Y. is a key to liking this song -- it's so grandoise and over the top, in a kind of adolescent way, that you can't help but get swept up in it. I love that's vague and doesn't tell you what the "joke" was that wreaked such havoc on the narrarator's life. This is great songwriting, because it allows a listener to use their imagination. Robin Gibb was the great singer in the Bee Gees early years, not Barry. His quivering vocal style is perfect for this song and their other early "over-the-top" hits like "I've Gotta Get a Message," "I Can't See Nobody," etc etc. At the end of this song, when you hits the high notes on "oh oh oh oh oh oh . . . " it really is quite stunning. It's like the ending to a Roy Orbison song. Very dramatic.
- kevin, Reading , PA
This song is what you make of it. It's whatever you feel while you're listening to it. There is no right or wrong. -Judy C. Kentucky
- JUDY, EVARTS, KY
I always thought it was perfectly geared to appeal to a highly emotional adolescent who thinks in very melodramatic terms, that everything s/he does has great meaning and impact. "I start a joke that made the *whole world* cry! I am so powerful and evil I'll never forgive myself!" The line "I finally died, which started the whole world living" actually makes me laugh out loud.

OTOH, Robin's voice is stunning and full of emotion. It's a beautiful sounding song.
- Kirsten, New York, NY
When this song was first released, many people rumored that it was about "Hitler". Made sense!
- Marty, San Francisco, CA
The song was supposed to have been about an incident in which a Pennsylvania official claimed that several college students, high on LSD, were blinded after lying in a meadow and staring at the sun. After the story gained notoriety around the world, and reporters were unsuccessful in tracking down the source, the hospital, or the students involved, the official admitted to concocting the entire story and was forced to resign.
- Joe, Pittsburgh, PA
I really like this song. I know some people think this is dumb. But believe you me, there are songs out there that are far more stupid than this one could ever be.
- Farrah, Elon, NC
***QUOTE***
ROBIN GIBB: The idea for the song came when I was sitting on a plane over Germany, and I heard a melody in the droning of the engine. As soon as I got on the ground that night I completed the song with Barry and Maurice. To me, that was a very spiritual song, about faith and survival in life. It wasn't a love song, it was one of the first songs we wrote about struggling to survive emotionally alone in the world.
*************************************************
- Egg, -, Australia
"I started a joke," and "Holiday" are two very haunting songs despite lyrics that are somewhat vague. The mood of sadness comes across in both songs and the mournful singing suggests fleeting
remembrances of things that delighted us as kids and maybe embarrassed us as adults. Mike S. Chicago
- Mike, Jersey City, NJ
Lee's right - to an extent. Robin said he was inspired by the sound of the jet engines on the plane. The melody is actually based around the sound of the plane taking off.
- Glen, Kent, NE
its funny to watch people post comments on peoples music tell what the song is about. Being a songwriter its all subjective and relative to the artist. its more fun to hear people say what the song is about even though they didnt write it. music is art. its all relative
- christopher, tucson, AZ
Covered to a great degree by Faith No More and the video is very strange
- Luke, Manchester, England
I always thought it was about being misunderstood by and out of step with others. The pathetic side of alienation.
- fyodor, Denver, CO
I once saw an interview with Robin, (who wrote this song), and he said that it doesn't really have a meaning. People speculate it's about religion etc, but he said it came into his head whilst on a plane. So while what the above facts say are true in that they explain the lyrics, the scenario quoted is not what Robin necessarily had in mind.
- Lee, Bournemouth
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