There are two different memories, Robin remembers us doing it in a boat going around New York. And I remember us checking in at the St. Regis with Robert, going to the suite, and while the bags were being brought in we were so high on being in New York, that's how 'Massachusetts' began. I think we were strumming basically the whole thing, and then I think we went on a boat 'round New York. I don't know if we finished it, but I think that's where the memories collide. Everybody wrote it. All three of us were there when the song was born.
The song was originally intended for The Seekers. Upon arriving in London from Australia (following in the path of the Seekers who had arrived several years earlier) the Bee Gees had been unsuccessful in getting the song to the group, so they recorded it themselves. During a chance meeting in London between the Seekers' lead singer Judith Durham and Maurice Gibb, Durham learned that "Massachusetts" was originally intended for her group and in 2003 the Seekers performed this song as a tribute to Maurice following his death earlier that year. The Bee Gees had never actually been to Massachusetts when they recorded this; they just liked the sound of the name.Robin Gibb explained about "Massachusetts" in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh:
"We have never been there but we loved the word and there is always something magic about American place names. It only works with British names if you do it as a folk song. Roger Whittaker did that with Durham Town." [Robin Gibb also recalled to The Mail on Sunday on 1 November 2009]: "This was a bittersweet victory. The day it went to No. one it was Bonfire Night and I was in the Hither Green rail crash in Lewisham. Forty-nine people died and it was one of Britain's worst rail disasters. Luckily I didn't get injured. I remember sitting at the side of the carriage, watching the rain pour down, fireworks go off and blue lights of the ambulances whirring. It was like something out of a Spielberg film. I thought, at least there is one consolation, we have our first UK number one."
Barry feels Bill Shepherd's orchestral score is perhaps the arranger's finest: "We never expected him to do that. Sometimes we would sing what we would [imagine] the strings doing. But in this case he did that himself, and I thought it was great. 'Massachusetts' was our first #1 in England".
Before the release of this song, Australians Colin Petersen and Vince Melouney were facing deportation, and it appeared that they might be leaving the band sooner than later. On 12 August, British fans staged a protest on behalf of the musicians at the cottage of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Three days later Bee Gees fan Deirdre Meehan chained and handcuffed herself to Buckingham Palace to protest the possible deportation. Ultimately, the musicians were allowed to stay, and the issue made nary a dent in the band's hectic schedule. When it was released in England, the title was "(The Lights Went Out in) Massachusetts" but was changed later, Atco Records delayed it to release "Holiday".
The song has a minor claim to fame in the history of British radio. While many people know "Flowers in the Rain" by The Move was the first record played on BBC Radio 1, "Massachusetts" was the second.
This single was the first No. 1 hit single by a non-Japanese artist on Japan's official hit chart, Oricon Singles Chart. "Massachusetts" was released as a single in 19 September, and on the next day, it entered the UK chart. The song reached No. 11 in the United States.
Between 1972 and 1974, this song was covered by Singapore-based female singer Ervinna, backing music by the Charlie & His Boys, on her LP album Golden Hits of 20th Century Vol. 6 with White Cloud Record of Singapore.