HAPPY SONGS FOR DARK TIMES #4: The “HAPPY” Happy Songs

If I was hopeful that the dark times might brighten after the Orange Menace was evicted by the people, well, those hopes look if not dashed, surely bruised and battered on the floor.

Homegrown fascism and bigotry have only more fully taken over the GOP, monstrous, genocidal fascism has uncloaked itself most viciously by Russia. And the Earth ain’t getting any cooler – remember that existential threat?

Okay. I’ll stop there. And provide another edition of Happy Songs for Dark Times. Instead of serving up one very particular tune that especially cheers me personally (like I have here, here and here), I will serve up a smorgasbord of happy songs, specifically happy songs that actually and rather helpfully have the word “happy” in their title.

And for that, naturally we must start with the king of the “happy” songs, Pharrell William’s “Happy”:

Pharrell starts the video of “Happy” in a dark alley, as if to indicate the gloom he will be banishing with this undeniably catchy, buoyant tune. For the rest of the video he and a diversity of fellow humans (and some Minions – “Happy” is the Oscar-nominated song from “Despicable Me 2”) sing and dance along, affirming that happiness is a truth. And when you hear this song, I feel positive you too will want to sing and dance and affirm happiness is a truth along with them.

This really is one of the happiest-making songs out there – I imagine it would top any poll of the happiest songs the world can agree on.

But there are more happy “Happy” songs. Let’s give a listen:

I just declared Pharrell’s “Happy” the likely winner of any happy song poll. Bobby McFerrin may want me to hold his beer. This a capella classic – McFerrin impressively provides every vocal, or voice and body produced sound – may not have the exuberance of Pharrell’s “Happy”, but it will make you smile with its joyous, infectious, laid back optimism. It cradles you in a blissful groove. Like you’re swinging in a hammock or gently strolling and skipping on a sunny sidewalk. Plus the video features the two great American clowns of the past century: Robin Williams and Bill Irwin.

“Let me give you my phone number, when you’re worried, call me, I’ll make you happy” indeed!

Imagine me and you listening to this song. The verse starts in minor, and the singer sounds slightly pained, but then he suggests we could be “happy together”, and bursts into a chorus so joyous, so exuberant, all sorrowful puppy dog feelings weighing down the verse are dispelled by a parade of sunshine and banners and streamers. So “Happy Together” indeed.

This classic is perhaps more affirmative than joyous, but hey, how can such an unabashedly declarative affirmation not make the recipient of these words overjoyed: “You’ve made me so very happy. I’m so glad you came into my life. I want to thank you, girl, every day of my life.” Man, guy, wow, really means a lot to hear you see that. Yep, that makes me happy too!

Happily The Beatles also have a happy song with “Happy” in the title. And in this clip from the movie “A Hard Days Night”, as a wink wink nudge nudge, the performance of “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” is preceded by a TV showgirls routine to the same tune.

This song has only just been released (on YouTube) two weeks ago. Infused with confident Jamaican joy, it invites you to party in a groovy, laid backed way, singing along, whether in tune or not it’s all good, to the catchy chorus: “Happiness – We no inna nothing with stress … (words I can’t discern but it’s okay) … Happiness – We no inna nothing with stress …”

I almost didn’t include this song, because although it emphatically declares “Happiness”, the video is more effective in selling me a car than on joy. But maybe you will find this mid-tempo dance track more endorphin eliciting than I.

That’s the “happy” pop tunes I’ve selected (by which I mean “Happy” pop tunes that actually are happy*). But we will find even more “happy”-ness originating on the stage:

I’d be remiss not to include “Happy” songs from the musical songbook. First and foremost “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from “The King and I”. Rogers and Hammerstein’s classic mix of sweetness and sincerity can’t help but raise your spirits and want to whistle along:

That same joyous, infectious sweetness envelopes Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Happy Talk” in South Pacific. Hard not to be charmed, unless you think of this storyline less as comic matchmaking and more as Bloody Mary pimping out her daughter…

My favorite “Happy” song from musical theater is “I Could Be Happy With You”, from “The Boyfriend”. So much so I asked a friend to sing it for Ed and me at our wedding. Here Julie Andrews sings it in the role that introduced her to American audiences and ushered her towards stardom in “My Fair Lady”

“The Boyfriend” is a 50’s musical that sounds like a 20’s musical. But originally from that era is the classic “Happy Days Are Here Again”, here performed in a 1930 recording from Ben Selvin and the Crooners:

There’s probably no musical movie song that tries as hard to make you happy as “Life’s a Happy Song” from “The Muppets”, and it gamely, goofily succeeds:

And when Dick van Dyke asks you to “Put On A Happy face”, how can you remain a sourpuss? Impossible:

The original Broadway stage version of the song makes me even happier:

When the Peanuts gang does a musical and the big finale is a song called “Happiness”, you’d expect big smiles all around, right? Well, maybe, but from gentle wistfulness, not manic joy, as this track attests:

But let’s face it, the most exuberantly, you’re-gonna-be-happy-god-dammit musical number is performed by the tragic Goddess of Musicals herself, Judy Garland, exhorting us all to “Sing Hallelujah, Come On! Get Happy!”:

Amen!

Which leads us to the happy conclusion of our Happy Songs: Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand comically hating on each other before meddling “Get Happy” and “Happy Days are Here Again”. Judy and Barbra together, don’t it make a gay heart glad!

*And then there are songs with “Happy” or a derivation of happy in their titles, but they can’t be called happy songs. Wistful, cathartic, ironic, angry, empowering maybe, but not happy.

What does it say about pop music that it is easier to find songs with “Happy” in their titles that are not happy at all than “Happy” songs that are actually … happy?

But these are still great songs with “Happy” titles, so with the above warning in mind, here they are:

About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 30 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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1 Response to HAPPY SONGS FOR DARK TIMES #4: The “HAPPY” Happy Songs

  1. Louise Roche Lund says:

    Love these happy songs…needed them today, anniversary of Jim’s death. Will you be writing one of these soon??

    Liked by 1 person

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