“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
– George Burns
- “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 tune “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was the first a cappella song to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. McFerrin first spotted the simple philosophy on a poster of Indian guru Meher Baba.
“I would do it in clubs, it wasn’t finished, I didn’t have all the lyrics and stuff figured out but I would just sing the refrain and just improvise, playing with it a little bit,” McFerrin told Vancouver’s CityNews 1130. “When I was in the studio recording Simple Pleasures, it wasn’t even on the docket as a tune, I wasn’t even considering it. It never even came to my mind until, while I was working on some other piece and I got stuck, I couldn’t figure out what to do with it.
“I dismissed the engineer and everybody and I went in the back and I wrote out the lyrics, I called everyone back and I sang it, and I think the whole thing took about forty-five minutes. I didn’t pay much mind to it. I thought it was kind of a nifty tune but I had no idea it was going to do anywhere near what it did as far as sales and popularity.”
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
- “Happy Together” by the Turtles
By the time the Turtles were offered “Happy Together” by writers Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, it had been turned down by a dozen bands. “The demo we received was so damn awful and the actual live presentation of the song by the writers Bonner and Gordon at the Beverly Hills Hotel was equally awful,” Howard Kaylan told us in 2013. “But we heard something in the song that all of those other bands didn’t hear. We didn’t play ‘Happy Together’ live for a very long time but we had the demo with us and we just rehearsed it over and over.
“I gotta give credit where credit is due to Chip Douglas, who was our bass player at the time, for really getting it together vocally for us and writing out horn parts, even though I think Jerry Yester wound up doing some of those. But Chip knew what he wanted to hear and he actually heard in his head the blend of horns and voices. He wanted to have the flutes echo the high voices and the horns be the middle voices.”
“Happy Together” reached No. 1 in 1967, the only time the Turtles topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart. “Sometimes you know if a song’s a hit and sometimes you don’t know,” said Kaylan. “When we left the studio after recording ‘Happy Together’ I absolutely knew it was a No. 1 record. They can call it ‘The Hum Bugs’; they can release it on any label. None of that matters; this is a No. 1 record.”
“Happy Together” by the Turtles
- “Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five
The Dave Clark Five was one of the best of the British Invasion bands. Mike Clark provided lead vocals and Dave Clark’s thunderous drums were the foundation of what became the “Tottenham Sound,” named for the British city where the band formed. The DC5’s first releases in the UK were Motown covers, but its breakthrough hit in the US was 1964’s “Glad All Over.”
“Dave thought we should do something original,” Smith recalled in The Independent. “He asked me to come up with something and I looked through my record collection for a suitable title.” Smith and Clark wrote a new song around the title of Carl Perkins’ “Glad All Over.”
Clark told Classic Bands that writing the song took “minutes. When I say minutes, I mean well under an hour. I always felt that the really good songs were written very quickly. An inspiration would come and you’d finish it very quickly. I’m talking about the actual writing of the song, not the production. The songs that you actually spent days or weeks on, never ended up being the album tracks.”
“Glad All Over” by the Dave Clark Five
- “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” by the Beatles
An article in the May 1968 issue of American Rifleman magazine was the inspiration for “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” one of John Lennon’s compositions on the Beatles’ 1968 White Album. The story’s title was a spoof on the Peanuts comics expression, “Happiness Is a Warm Puppy.”
“‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’ was another one which was banned on the radio -– they said it was about shooting up drugs,” Lennon recalled in Anthology. “But they were advertising guns and I thought it was so crazy that I made a song out of it. It wasn’t about ‘H’ at all. George Martin showed me the cover of a magazine that said: ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun.’ I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say. A warm gun means you’ve just shot something.”
“It was so sick, you know, the idea of ‘Come and buy your killing weapons,'” Paul McCartney told Radio Luxembourg. “But it’s just such a great line, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun,’ that John sort of took that and used that as a chorus. And the rest of the words … I think they’re great words, you know. It’s a poem.”
“Happiness Is a Warm Gun” by the Beatles
- “Oh How Happy” by the Shades of Blue
The teenagers who would become the Shades of Blue were doing background vocals and demos at Golden World Records in Detroit in 1965 when they met Edwin Starr, who would score a No. 1 hit with “War” in 1970.
“We got to be studio rats,” said Nick Marinelli in Golden Hits of the ’60s. “One time Edwin Starr happened to be there. Edwin said he had a few songs that we could kick around. He had the title, and we bounced around some melodies and between the five of us, we wrote ‘Oh How Happy.’ We never got the [songwriter’s] credit, ’cause we were nineteen years old and stupid naive kids.”
“I wrote ‘Oh How Happy’ while in the service in Germany [1960-62],” said Starr. “I gave the record to a good friend of mine, Harry Balk, and his Impact label. It was a monster.”
“Oh How Happy” became a Top 20 hit in 1966. Shades of Blue toured with the Dick Clark Caravan but never came close to repeating the success of “Oh How Happy” and disbanded in 1969. “It was reality check time when we did the Caravan with the Rascals and Paul Revere & the Raiders,” said Marinelli. “They talked of these fantastic royalty checks and we’re going like, ‘What royalty checks?’ We soured. ‘Wait a second,’ we thought, ‘we’re making really good money on the road, but we’re getting ripped off here.'”
“Oh How Happy” by the Shades of Blue
- “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night
When singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton pitched “Joy to the World” to Three Dog Night’s Cory Wells and Danny Hutton, they rejected it. But Chuck Negron, who would sing lead on the 1971 hit, told antiMusic, “At first, Hoyt had pitched the song to them and he had changed some of the lyrics. I don’t know which lyrics came first, but the lyrics I heard were: ‘Jeremiah was a prophet.’ Jeremiah was a prophet? I went, you know, ‘Hoyt, that’s not a record.’ So he said, ‘Well, I have this other thing’ … You know, some way it worked around to ‘Jeremiah was a bullfrog.’
“It wasn’t a powerful lyric when I heard it. What I heard in the song was the ‘Joy to the World.’ When he sang that, I heard Three Dog Night harmony. I knew, oh, we’re going to be able to do a nice harmony on this. And I augmented the chords so that we would really be able to belt it out and it worked.”
“I didn’t get it, but to this day, I love it,” said Hutton in Pop Entertainment. “I thought it was a goofy song. It was the third release off the album. We would try to find the ten songs that we liked the best. And they would do market research and get feedback. I was shocked when that song hit. It sold like ten million records. When you listen to the lyrics … ‘I’m a straight-shootin’ son of a gun’ and ‘I’d love to drink his wine’ … it’s kind of a weird but universal song.”
“Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night
“Joy to the World” by Hoyt Axton
- “Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M.
R.E.M., with guest vocals by Kate Pierson of the B-52’s, released “Shiny Happy People” on their 1991 album Out of Time. The tune would become a Top 10 single that year. “It was a song written for children,” Michael Stipe explained on NBC’s Today show. “It’s still enjoyed in elementary schools around the world as far as I know.
“I didn’t have an older brother or sister who listened to the Beatles and turned me on to music like that. So for me the music of the day growing up in the ’60s was the Monkees, the Banana Splits and the Archies. And ‘Shiny Happy People,’ the song ‘Stand,’ the song ‘Get Up,’ these were my attempts at writing bubblegum pop music for kids.”
“It was written to be as pop as it could possibly be, absurdly, ridiculously pop,” Stipe told The Sun. “OK, I don’t want it to be the song R.E.M. are remembered by in 100 years’ time but it should be recognized as one of our minor hits … though not our finest moment.”
“Shiny Happy People” by R.E.M.
- “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by The Undisputed Truth
Norman Whitfield was Motown’s most creative producer in the early 1970s, re-inventing the label’s sound with tracks like the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” and “Psychedelic Shack.” Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote “Smiling Faces Sometimes” for the Tempts, which they recorded in 1971 as a 12-minute album cut featuring vocals by Eddie Kendricks. Whitfield considered cutting the song down as a single but abandoned the idea when Kendricks left the group in March 1971.
Whitfield had success recording “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” in the 1960s with both Gladys Knight & the Pips and Marvin Gaye, so it was not unusual for him to bring the Temptations’ tune to a new Motown trio, The Undisputed Truth. “We did rehearse the song before we cut it,” the group’s Joe Harris explained on Classic Motown. “but most of the rehearsing was done on the studio floor. Norman liked to cut vocals live, and we had several tries at getting a take before he was happy with what we got. I went to the recording of the tracks and it was amazing to see Norman at work, pulling things in on the mix and dropping things down, bringing musicians in to play tiny parts.”
The Undisputed Truth’s version became a No. 3 hit in 1971, but it was their last big hit.
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by The Undisputed Truth
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Temptations
- “Happy Jack” by The Who
The Who’s 1967 “Happy Jack” was one of the band’s earliest hits in the US. Its lyrics seem nonsensical but Pete Townshend explained in The Guardian that “Happy Jack, who lived in the sand on the Isle of Man,” had its roots in his childhood.
“My father used to play saxophone in a band for the season on the Isle of Man when I was a kid,” said Townshend. “There was no character called Happy Jack, but I played on the beach a lot and [the song]is just my memories of some of the weirdos who live out on the sand.”
“I remember when I first heard ‘Happy Jack,’ I thought, ‘What the fuck do I do with this? It’s like a German oompah song!’” Roger Daltrey told Uncut. “I had a picture in my head that this was the kind of song that Burl Ives would sing, so ‘Happy Jack’ was my imitation of Burl Ives!
“But listen to [Keith] Moon on that track — in those days he was so distinctive. Even from the very first night he played with us. We got Keith, this kid we didn’t know, out of the audience, on the drums and it was like this fucking jet engine starting. I was like, ‘What the fuck’s this?!’ It was such instant chemistry. Really, we couldn’t have had any other drummer. He was incredible.”
“Happy Jack” by The Who
- “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer
Leo Sayer notched a No. 1 hit in 1977 with “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.” Its disco style was a departure for Sayer, whose previous hit in 1974 was “Long Tall Glasses (I Can Dance).” Sayer told us about his inspiration for the song in 2016.
“I had a bunch of musicians around me who were very inspiring, principally Jeff Porcaro, who became a great friend, and Ray Parker Jr., a great classic Motown guitarist from Stevie Wonder‘s band. We start talking about favorite songs. Jeff and I phoned each other in the morning. I said, ‘Have you heard this fucking song on the radio: Shirley & Company, ‘Shame, Shame, Shame.’ So he stopped by Tower Records on the way to the studio and we put it on the player and we said, ‘Fuck, man, what a groove!’
“And then a break comes and Jeff starts playing the groove of that record and I start singing. And Ray is playing the guitar groove although he’s reinvented it and he’s playing this pluck thing on his Les Paul. And I’m just jamming along. And [producer]Richard Perry is in the studio. So he rushed to the tape machine, threw the tape on and started recording us. And a few days later, he said, ‘That is the hit. That is the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard. That is a crossover.’
“We got a Grammy for Best R&B Song. I remember being at a party afterwards and Natalie Cole said, ‘You’ve stolen our music!’ I said, ‘I’m not stealing anything, I grew up with this shit! I’m as black as you, baby!’ [Laughs]”
“You Make Me Feel Like Dancing” by Leo Sayer
- “Happy” by the Rolling Stones
“Happy” was primarily written by Keith Richards, the only charting Rolling Stones single with Keef on lead vocals. “Happy” was included on the Stones’ 1972 LP Exile on Main Street. Richards explained how the song was produced in his autobiography, Life.
“One sublime example of a song winging in from the ether is ‘Happy.’ We did that in an afternoon, in only four hours, cut and done. At noon it had never existed. At four o’clock it was on tape. It was no Rolling Stones record. It’s got the name on it, but it was actually Jimmy Miller on drums, Bobby Keys on baritone and that was basically it. And then I overdubbed bass and guitar. We were just waiting for everybody to turn up for the real sessions for the rest of the night and we thought, we’re here; let’s see if we can come up with something.
“I’d written it that day. We got something going, we were rocking, everything was set up and so we said, well, let’s start to work it down and then we’ll probably hit it with the guys later. I decided to go on the five-string with the slide and suddenly there it was. Just like that. By the time they got there, we had it. Once you have something, you just let it fly.”
Piano, trumpet, saxophone, Mick Taylor’s guitar and Mick Jagger’s backing vocals were added later.
“It just came, tripping off the tongue, then and there. When you’re writing this shit, you’ve got to put your face in front of the microphone, spit it out. Something will come. I wrote the verses of ‘Happy,’ but I don’t know where they came from.”
“Happy” by the Rolling Stones