The Meaning Behind “Nights on Broadway,” One of the First Bee Gees Songs to Go Full Falsetto

Is there a more iconic sound in pop music history than Barry Gibb’s falsetto? On the 1975 Bee Gees’ hit single “Nights on Broadway,” Barry was encouraged to put that falsetto at the forefront of the song’s chorus, a move that set the template for many more hits to come from the band.

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What is the song about? How did it represent the band’s change in musical focus? And what prompted the falsetto? It’s time to look back at the unforgettable “Nights on Broadway.”

Changing “Course”

The Bee Gees slumped through much of the first half of the 1970s. Their preferred style of lush balladry had gone out of style, which caused the hit singles and albums to dry up. On the surface, the 1974 album Mr. Natural seemed like just another in the streak of flops from which they couldn’t seem to extricate themselves.

But there was artistic progress made on that album. For one, it united the band with producer Arif Mardin, who would eventually steer them in a much more profitable direction. Mr. Natural also found the band toying with urban musical styles. Even though the album still focused on slow stuff, the benchmark was the Philly Soul of the era, rather than Beatlesque pop.

When they convened in Miami to make the album Main Course in 1975—again with Mardin in the producer’s chair—the band looked to update their sound even further. There was more rhythmic punch in many of the songs, including the huge comeback hit “Jive Talkin’.” It set the tone for their all-in move to disco in the years to come. But the songs on Main Course were still more a hybrid of R&B styles, including the funk-flavored second single “Nights on Broadway.”

A Momentous Suggestion

“Nights on Broadway” featured music as tough as they’d released to that point, even with a softer, melodic middle section that highlights the gilded harmonies of the brothers. There’s a hard funk edge to the proceedings, thanks to the synth bass of Blue Weaver and the snapping drums of Dennis Bryon.

But the real innovation came in the refrain, when Barry Gibb stepped up the ladder into his falsetto to belt out a countermelody playing off the main tune. He told Larry King in an interview (as reported by Songfacts) that Mardin came up with the idea:

“It came to me in a dream. There was a request by Arif Martin, who was like an uncle to us, he was a great record producer during the song ‘Nights on Broadway’ for the Main Course album, which is previous to the ‘Fever’ syndrome. And he said, ‘Can any of you scream? Scream in falsetto?’ So, you know, give us an ad lib or a scream at the end. So from screaming, it turned into things like Blaming It All.”

What is the Meaning Behind “Nights on Broadway”?

The falsetto is the perfect touch on “Nights on Broadway” since it projects intensity and urgency, which matches the song’s lyrical themes. Our narrator is just shy of stalker status as he tries to win back his ex in the sweaty evening: Well I had to follow you / Though you did not want me to / That won’t stop my loving you. In the second verse, he reveals that he has serious competition for her company: There are so many others / Standin’ in the line / How will they come between us.

In the bridge, he indulges in a kind of reverie, imagining they’re still together in his mind: Somehow I feel inside / You never ever left my side. Even if it takes a lifetime, he promises her of his eventual return. But his feeble excuse for why they fell apart doesn’t bode well for their long-term prospects: Blamin’ it all / On the nights on Broadway.

“Nights on Broadway” solidified the success of “Jive Talkin'” for the Bee Gees by hitting the Top 10. And it’s earned a bizarre, sketch comedy-fueled second life. That falsetto was quite the powerful sonic effect, after all.

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