Though this is a Celtic-tinged country-folk song, it grooves along like a soul-pop tune thanks to the little-mentioned rhythm section of the early Bee Gees. Maurice Gibb (bass), Vince Melouney (guitar), and Colin Petersen (drums) lay down a vintage mid/late-'60s shuffle (think: the Association) that also was the backbone of such Bee Gees recordings as "To Love Somebody" and "I've Gotta Get a Message to You." While the R&B feel of such early Bee Gees tracks is obviously not as pronounced as their better-known disco hits of the late '70s, it is nevertheless an important facet of the group's British Invasion incarnation. But it was the melodies more than the beats of the Gibbs' 1960s tunes that put the songs over the top; the songs are driven by infectious melodies that gloss over the at-times forgettable lyrics. The band is often compared to mid-period Beatles for obvious reasons, but with their three-part harmonies, orchestrated arrangements, and solid groves, a more fitting comparison would be the Beach Boys.
The 1967 single was the first British number one for the group, subsequently topping the charts around the world. With the tastefully lush string section, Donald "Duck" Dunn-like bass line, acoustic-guitar strumming, and Celtic melody, "Massachusetts" is actually not far removed from early-'70s songs from Van Morrison like "Into the Mystic." The lyrics ring true emotionally, even if the message is a bit vague: "Feel I'm going back to Massachusetts/Something's telling me I must go home/And the lights all went out in Massachusetts/The day I left her standing on her own." It is one of the many hippie songs from the period about leaving home for San Francisco, where -- as we all know -- it was all happening. The choice of Massachusetts, not the most musical-sounding places names, seems arbitrary, except for perhaps the extreme geographical distance from the point of departure to the destination. The beauty of the lyric is that it takes the then-new trend of leaving home and combines it with the old Celtic tradition of the rover who longs for home, as with the traditional ballad "Carrickfergus." And the melody -- again -- is absolutely stirring.