Robin Gibb takes the lead vocal duties on the most melodramatic of all Bee Gees songs, "I Started a Joke," released as a 1969 single and included on Best of the Bee Gees (1969). A beautiful ascending chord progression played by a blend of acoustic six, 12-strings, and electric guitars lays the basis for one of the group's achingly memorable melodies. Light orchestration, arranged by Bill Shephard, enters for a truly Baroque-folk feel in line with era, the tail end of the British Invasion. The rhythm section -- usually a strong point on early Bee Gees tracks --sounds drunk here; some of the parts are odd to begin with, the drum pattern, for example, but the drummer Colin Petersen's time seems way off, and Maurice Gibb (if he is playing) makes a glaring bass clam at around the 50-second mark.
Such rawness is accepted, cherished even, on, say, Bob Dylan recordings. But obviously the Gibbs collectively do not even add up to anything in the same lyrical ballpark as Dylan. "I started a joke," sings Robin in his fluttering voice. "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." The sentiment reeks of melodramatic, sophomoric teenage self-pity, which is precisely the audience that bought up so many copies of the record. But there are some real laughable clunkers here, 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." Lines like "Then I finally died/Which started the whole world living," 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. In fact, like many Bee Gees songs, the lyrics are forgotten and one gets lost in the tune and the arrangement, the singing, and production, and the whole thing is saved.
The Wallflowers continued their cover-songs-for-soundtrack pattern in 2001 with a lovely "Dear Prudence"-ized arrangement of "I Started a Joke" for the soundtrack to the film Zoolander. Folk interpreter Richie Havens offered a very nice version, from Collection (1987).