Album: Spirits Having Flown (1979)
Charted: 1 1
Play Video


  • The Bee Gees captured some serious urgency on "Tragedy," with a falsetto lead vocal by Barry Gibb that sounds like a siren racing to the scene of an emotional breakdown. The song captures that feeling when the love of your life has left you, and you feel you can't go on.

    The group didn't have to be experiencing heartbreak to write about it: They were expert composers who could capture an emotion and deliver it in convincing manner.
  • The Gibb brothers wrote both "Tragedy" and "Too Much Heaven" (another American #1), in an afternoon off from making the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie in which they were starring. Then in the evening they wrote another American #1 single, "Shadow Dancing" for their brother Andy Gibb.
  • Stuck for a convincing thunderclap sound, Barry Gibb cupped his hands over a microphone and made an exploding noise with his mouth. Several of these sounds were then mixed together, creating the large boom heard on this song.
  • "Tragedy" hit #1 in America on March 24, 1979, giving the Bee Gees their eight chart-topper in that country. Disco was still going strong, but its days were numbered as the sound had oversaturated the airwaves. The Bee Gees took the brunt of the backlash. Their next single, "Love You Inside Out," also went to #1, but then disco fell out of favor and their singles stiffed. Anything with the Bee Gees name on it became toxic, so they focused on writing for other artists and were very successful in doing so. Among their hits in this phase: "Woman In Love" by Barbra Streisand and "Heartbreaker" by Dionne Warwick.
  • In January 1999 a cover by the British group Steps returned this song to the top of the British charts. Released as a double A-side with "Heartbeat," it sold over a million copies in the UK, making it the top selling Bee Gees cover of all time in Britain.

Comments: 14

  • Klassymusicteacher from Kalispell, MtI was 3 to 4 years old around the time this was released. Not knowing it then, but I learned how to count beats of rest and sustained notes from hearing this song over and over. But stranger yet, 5 minutes ago I’ve been led to believe that the repeated sound at the end wasn’t a gun shot! I’m not even crazy about guns, nor was I as a boy in the US during the Cold War. My parents discouraged most anything gun related yet I looked forward to this song for the sound at the end!
  • Randy from IdahoIf you'd like to watch Barry do 3 explosion takes, the footage is on YouTube 42Mk6OJ5ZwQ.
  • Peter from HungaryIn my opinion Jesse is right, the explosion effect definitely does not sound like human voice. I think the band tried to create the sound in a vocal way and they might have been satisfied with it for a while, but then they changed it to a synthesizer sound on the master.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn February 4th 1979, "Tragedy" by the Bee Gees entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #29; and on March 18th, 1979 it peaked at #1 (for 2 weeks) and spent 20 weeks on the Top 100 (and for 8 of those 20 week it was on the Top 10)...
    It also reached #1 in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Italy...
    Was track one of side one on the trio's fifteenth studio album, 'Spirits Having Flown', and on April 27th, 1979 the album reached #1 (for 5 weeks), also peaked at #1 in the U.K., Canada, Australia, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Germany...
    Two other tracks from the album also made the Top 100 and both at #1; "Too Much Heaven" (for 2 weeks) and "Love You Inside Out" (for 1 week)...
    On the Top 100 "Tragedy" was the fifth of six straight #1 records by the trio; starting with "How Deep Is Your Love" (3 weeks), "Stayin' Alive" (4 weeks), "Night Fever (8 weeks), "Too Much Heaven" (2 weeks), this one , and finally "Love You Inside Out" (1 week)...
    It was "He's A Liar" that broke the string, it reached #30..
    R.I.P. Maurice Gibb (1949 - 2003) and Robin Gibb (1949 - 2012).
  • Rocky from Limoges, OnBradly is 100 percent correct. During that NBC special Barry indicated that while recording the song he imitated the sound of explosion he would like to hear. The others thought the sound he made was very good and so they played around with that sound and added echo to it .... no synthesizer.
  • Karen from Manchester, NhBradley IS correct. I saw the same special. Hello...I was 15 years old in 1979 and madly in "love" with Barry Gibb! Not only did they SAY it...they PROVED it! Jesse can claim all of the professional expertise he wants; they showed the clip. SEEING is believing.
  • Don from Sevierville, TnI think Bradley's right about the explosion - I saw that same TV special during Thanksgiving 1979. But maybe the synth could have been added on afterwards.
  • Lorraine from Arjay, KyI will always love the Brothers Gibb.They are awesome!
    They tell my "story" in most every song they sing!
    Such LASTING talent and greatness..WOW! I just hope they keep "buzzing" FOREVER! Love,Smitten completely,BBC (Babybadcakes)
  • Rick from Belfast, MeThe Bee Gees, a band that I consider to be #3 of all time, with The Rolling Stones #2 and The Beatles #1. They could really showcase their voices in their music.....especially liked the "haunting" rendition of their song....Lonely Days, Lonely Nights.....
  • Jesse from Madison, WiWhereas people just LOVE the type of personal interest story that the "explosion" sound effect entails, I still feel - having worked for two decades with synthesizers - that it was in fact a synthesizer. And in 1979, as now even, nobody wants to hear that the sound was a synthesizer effect. Whatever even the brothers Gibb have to say about it, I'm laying my money down on the argument that it was created by a synthesizer. Record labels ALWAYS twisted the truth around to generate sales, and making up some crap about cupping his hand over the mike to make the sound seems plausible, but I disagree. I don't care if I wasn't there, I know synthesizer sounds when I hear them. That's no human voice. It's a VCF set to self-oscillate with white noise mixed in on the synth's built-in mixer. It's very easy to make thunder on an analog synthesizer. And that's what it sounds like when it's done. Now argue away.
  • Bradley from Winchester, NhThe explosion sound effects were done by Barry gibb cupping his hands around the microphone in the studio and making the sound with his mouth. The producers then mixed a few takes of the sound together to make it sound like one huge explosion. This was revealed on an NBC special in 1979.
  • Kevin from Reading , PaThis is a perfect example of the Bee Gees just ruling the music world at this time. This isn't one of their more memorable songs of the era, but back in '79, everything was shooting straight to No. 1.
  • Paul from Newark, DeThis song features the horn section of Chicago, who were returning the favor, after the Bee Gees performed on Chicago's 1978 album, Hot Streets.
  • Chip from San Mateo, CaThis song has been re-done by an industrial band named CellDweller, both show the same power in the vocals about love that has died and being alone (this song hit close to home for me)
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Stephen Christian of Anberlin

Stephen Christian of AnberlinSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer/lyricist for Anberlin breaks down "Impossible" and covers some tracks from their 2012 album Vital.

Christopher Cross

Christopher CrossSongwriter Interviews

The man who created Yacht Rock with "Sailing" wrote one of his biggest hits while on acid.

Mike Scott of The Waterboys

Mike Scott of The WaterboysSongwriter Interviews

The stories behind "Whole Of The Moon" and "Red Army Blues," and why rock music has "outlived its era of innovation."

Donny Osmond

Donny OsmondSongwriter Interviews

Donny Osmond talks about his biggest hits, his Vegas show, and the fan who taught him to take "Puppy Love" seriously.

Harold Brown of War

Harold Brown of WarSongwriter Interviews

A founding member of the band War, Harold gives a first-person account of one of the most important periods in music history.

Rock Revenge Songs

Rock Revenge SongsMusic Quiz

John Lennon, Paul Simon and Lynyrd Skynyrd are some of the artists who have written revenge songs. Do you know who they wrote them about?