Friday, June 30, 2006

Happiness Is A Warm And Fuzzy Song: My Top 11 Feel Good-Enough Records

Bruce Springsteen, just to lighten up the darkness at the edge of town a bit, once wrote, "It Ain't No Sin To Be Glad You're Alive." Well, let's not get carried away...

There's nothing definitive about this list of feel-good songs, or more precisely, good-enough songs. After all, my goal in life is just to muddle on through somehow. Anyway, I tried to assign an order to this collection, but that got to be problematic - the end result being that while I can confirm that my number one chosen song is indeed my favorite, all the others comprise a ten-way tie for the number two position. There, that's a compromise of sorts that'll make me somewhat happy enough, or what passes for it, I guess. Speaking of a qualified happiness...

11. “Happy Boy" -- The Beat Farmers
Okay, um, there’s no way this song should make me, or anybody for that matter, happy. But a chipper little ditty about a dead dog is such a perverse toe-tapper I couldn’t resist. And Country Dick Montana, who died in 1995, put such spirit into it in concert. So, in memory of Country Dick and Buddy Blue, who passed away earlier this month:

    My little dog Spot got hit by a car
    Hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba
    Put his guts in a box and put him in a drawer
    Hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba
    I forgot all about it for a month and a half
    Hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba
    I looked in the drawer and started to laugh
    Hubba hubba hubba hubba hubba

    Well I'm a happy boy (happy boy)
    Well I'm a happy boy (happy boy)
    Oh ain't it good when things are going your way, hey hey?

10. “I’m Down” -- The Beatles:
While we’re on the subject of paradoxical songs with lyrics so at odds with the music, consider this rough and raucous rocker from Paul McCartney. A great call ‘n’ response of a shouter -- with backing vocal moral support from John and George -- that totally belies the notion he’s all depressed and moody and thinking about how yesterday love was such an easy game to play:

    You telling lies thinking I can't see
    You don't cry cos you're laughing at me
    I'm down (I'm really down)
    I'm down (Down on the ground)
    I'm down (I'm really down)
    How can you laugh when you know I'm down
    (How can you laugh) When you know I'm down.

9. “Pump It Up” -- Elvis Costello:
Remember that pump in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”? The one that didn’t work because “the vandals took the handle“? Costello recovered the missing part and got it going again, setting it to a rapid-fire adrenaline rush accompaniment:

    She’s been a bad girl.
    She’s like a chemical.
    Though you try to stop it,
    She’s like a narcotic.
    You wanna torture her.
    You wanna talk to her.
    All the things you bought for her,
    Putting up your temp’rature.
    Pump it up until you can feel it...

8. “Badlands” -- Bruce Springsteen:
Sure he’s miserable now. There’s trouble in the heartland and he’s caught in a crossfire he doesn’t understand and there’s a head-on collision smashin’ in his guts, man, but one day he -- and we -- are gonna get out. So this song of grit, determination and inspiration is “for the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside / That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” If this sense of resolve to turn your life around doesn’t hit you in a visceral manner with tooth and nail ferocity and passion, then you have ice water in your veins.

7. “This Old World” -- The Beach Boys:
A short gem of a song -- wondrous, resonant melody. Simple without being simplistic:

    I'm thinking about a-this whole world
    Late at night I think about the love of this whole world
    Lots of different people everywhere
    And when I go anywhere I see love I see love I see love.

6. “Victoria” -- The Kinks:
It’s not so much that I harbor Victorian ideals or that I’m a royalist enamored of the good old days of Queen Victoria when “Long ago life was clean / Sex was bad and obscene / And the rich were so mean.” Besides, I'm American. This celebratory tongue-in-cheek anthem of sorts just strikes a chord with my inner acquisitive and power-mad imperialist -- either that or I just love the infectious exuberance with which the dubious sentiment is conveyed:

    Canada to India
    Australia to Cornwall
    Singapore to Hong Kong
    From the West to the East
    From the rich to the poor
    Victoria loved them all
    Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, ’toria…

5. “Hey Bulldog” -- The Beatles:
What makes me think I’m something special when I smile? I always smile when I hear mindless fun and John, Paul, George and Ringo barking like mad dogs and, well, Englishmen.

4. “I Get Around” -- The Beach Boys: This one resonates with the native Southern Californian in me, and it sounds fantastic on a cranked-up car radio. Sure “I’m gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip” and “I gotta finda new place where the kids are hip,” but what really sends me are the trademark Beach Boys' soaring harmonies and upbeat melodic propulsion. The backing instrumentation without the vocals (and it is available on the Good Vibrations box set) is impressive, too - as remarkable as the realization that “the bad guys know us and they leave us alone.”

3. “Beat Surrender” -- The Jam:
It has a good beat and you can dance like a dervish to it, but if you can‘t “fill [your]heart with joy and gladness” after living “too long in shadows of sadness,” maybe the glass-half-full lyrics will get a response:

    Come on boy, come on girl
    Succumb to the beat surrender
    All the things that I care about (are packed into one punch)
    All the things that I’m not sure about (are sorted out at once)

    And as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end
    That bullshit is bullshit, it just goes by different names

    All the things that I shout about (but never act upon)
    All the courage and the dreams that I have
    (but seem to wait so long)
    My doubt is cast aside, watch phonies run to hide.

2. “Dance, Dance, Dance” -- the Beach Boys:
“After six hours of school I've had enough for the day / I hit the radio dial and turn it up all the way.” Okay, after six hours I did have enough of school, too, but I didn’t commence to dancing. In my mind, however, I was on American Bandstand or Shindig or Hullabaloo making a dancing’ fool of myself:

    When I feel put down I try to shake it off quick
    With my chick by my side the radio does the trick
    I gotta dance (dance dance dance now the beat's really hot) right on the spot
    (Dance dance dance right there on the spot)
    The beat's really hot
    (Dance dance dance now the beat's really hot)
    Dance (dance) dance (dance) dance (dance) yeah!


1. “Jackie Wilson Said” -- Van Morrison:
Silly and sublime: What "Jackie Wilson said" was that what was, and shall ever be, is reet petite, amen. Here, the love interest (for lack of a better term of endearment at the moment) always causes me to feel like “I’m in heaven when you smile” and makes “my heart go boom-boom-boom” -- punctuated here by big bass drum. In this 1972 hit, Van tells it simple and true, and because he also knows about “the inarticulate speech of the heart” -- I’ve seen him in concert in one of his trance-like states where he seems to be calling up an inner force or invoking the muses -- you know these aren’t empty words. So when Van tells you, as he does in this song, to “let it all hang out,” he means this in a, well, a spiritual sense. Okay, I'm doing a lousy job explaining this. Best thing to do is to listen to the song when you can -- I dare you to harbor any negative thoughts -- but in the meantime, you can read the lyrics right here, including the "ding-a-ling-a-ling-ding" part:

    It was reet-petite
    Kinda love you got
    Knock me off my feet
    Let it all hang out
    Oh, let it all hang out.
    And you know
    I’m so wired-up
    Don’t need no coffee in my cup
    Let it all hang out
    Let it all hang out.
    Watch this:
    I’m in heaven, I’m in heaven
    I’m in heaven, when you smile
    When you smile, when you smile
    When you smile.
    And when you walk
    Across the road
    You make my heart go
    Let it all hang out
    Baby, let it all hang out
    And ev’ry time
    You look that way
    Honey child, you make my day
    Let it all hang out
    Like the man said: let it all hang out.

    Watch this:
    Ding-a-ling-a-ling ...

Suddenly I feel wired up. Don’t need no coffee in my cup, either.

By the way, did I forget to mention any other songs?


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