Saturday, March 15, 2014

Get Happy

In spite of (or perhaps because of) it being the progeny of one of the great pop musical producers working today, it's tempting to take pot shots at the song. After all, it doesn't take much to deny its musical complexity.  You can also sneer at its simple and repetitive lyrics.  Or just poo-poo its origin as the theme song to an animated movie starring one-eyed pill-shaped munchkins in denim overalls.  But the one thing you can't do is deny the power of "Happy."

It may have lost in the Oscar race for "Best Song" to "Let It Go" from Disney's "Frozen," but Pharrell Williams' tune has legs and then some.  That might not be too surprising when you consider that he was also behind two of last year's most successful songs, Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines " and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky".  In fact, Williams has the kind of track record that's hard to believe in any field, let along popular music.  He has written and/or produced hits for some of the most successful performers working today, from Madonna to BeyoncĂ© to Jennifer Lopez.  In fact, back in 2003, working with his producing partner and childhood friend Chad Hugo as The Neptunes, it was estimated that 40% pf the songs on US radio had his backbeat in them.

All this in a field that relies on the notoriously fickle tastes of the listening public.  For if recent history has taught us anything, it's that forecasting or predicting the next riff to hook the public's ear is a fool's game at best. After all, who would have thought that an angsty lament by a New Zealand teenager would be crowned a winner?  Neither the smart nor the dumb money was on Lorde, as no one outside her family had ever even heard of her before last year. But that didn't make a difference, as she had the top selling song by a female in 2013 with "Royals."

Williams' latest track has been described as a feel-good Motown throwback.  But whether you consider that a putdown or a compliment, listen just once to "Happy" and you will listen to it ten times, maybe twenty (just ask my wife after I put it on the playlist in her car). It is infectious and non-threatening, with easy to understand words even if they don't make a whole lot of any sense ("Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.")

For a real life example of just how hard it is to resist the pull of the song, watch the opening of the NBA All Star game.  Williams starred in the pregame concert, working through some of his more notable efforts with help from some of rap's biggest stars, performers known more for swagger and profanity than infectious pop.  He brought out Nelly to do his his Neptunes-produced hit "Hot In Herre." Diddy and Busta Rhymes followed with a basketball-tweaked remake of "Pass The Courvoisier, Part II." Williams played a few more of his own efforts (including "Get Lucky" without Daft Punk) before introducing Snoop Dog and "Beautiful."  One can only imagine the careful sifting it took to find family-friendly lyrics from any of these that passed muster in prime time.

But when Williams closed with "Happy" and brought back the rap royalty to join him, they looked like they were all at a 5-year-old's birthday party.  No bad-ass poses, no crotch grabbing, no gang hand signals.  Rather Snoop, Diddy, Busta and Nelly bopped and shimmied along to the smile-inducing single in a way that would be unlikely to be accepted inside 8 Mile, that dividing line in Detroit between middle and lower class.  Except that because of Pharrell, it's now accepted everywhere.

Still not convinced?  Then surf on over to  There Williams has created the world's first 24 hour music video where the song goes on endlessly with people singing and dancing around the clock. Yes, Williams is there numerous times, as are celebrities like Steve Carell and Kelly Osbourne.  But there're also two guys in tuxes in a train station at 2:20PM, a girl on an exercise trail at 7:08AM and guy in a chicken suit at 8:50PM.  All are indeed happy.  Watch it, and you will likely feel the same.


Marc Wollin of Bedford loves music, new and old. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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