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"I Started a Joke" is a song by the Bee Gees from their 1968 album Idea, which was released as a single in December of that year. It was not released as a single in the United Kingdom, 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.
Songs for the Idea album were completed on 20 June. "I Started A Joke" was the last to be recorded.
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 AirwaysVickers 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?
"There was a lot of that in those days" Barry laughed, "There was a lot of psychedelia and the idea that if you wrote something, even if it sounded ridiculous, somebody would find the meaning for it, and that was the truth". Robin Gibb told The Mail on Sunday on 1 November 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".
Structure and release
The song was originally recorded in the key of G major and has two contrasting sections. The verse sections consist of a cycle of G Bm C and D chords. The chords for the bridge section are Em Bm C G Bm Em Am D.
The song reached #1 in Canada, New Zealand and Australia. In Canada, it spent two weeks as the number one in RPM charts. "I Started a Joke" debuted at #66 at the United States Cashbox magazine in the week of 14 December 1968.
Robin Gibb's son played "I Started a Joke" on his phone just after his father died from kidney failure on 20 May 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.
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 albumWho Cares a Lot?. The music video was filmed on 8 September 1998, after Faith No More had disbanded five months earlier and featured none of the band members. (Some fans claim that Mike Patton is the singer just leaving the stage as the video is beginning.) 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.
In 1982, the Mexican band, Pegasso did a cover of this song titled "Yo Comence la broma" from their album "Se Tambalea" (It Staggers) in 1982, which had become a hit all over Mexico and Southern United States.
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.
A version of the song featured prominently in a trailer for the Suicide Squad film and appears on the film's soundtrack album titled Suicide Squad: The Album, performed by ConfidentialMX and Becky Hanson.
"I Started a Joke" was parodied by a Radio Free Vestibule sketch in which a voiced-over commentary takes the lyrics completely literally, appeared on the film Zoolander as covered by The Wallflowers.
The song "I Started a Joke" was 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.
"I Started a Joke" 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.
"I Started a Joke" appeared in one of the sketches in MTV's The State comedy television show.