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15 Great Songs About Happiness And Good Times - Part Two

9. Stevie Wonder - 'For Once In My Life'

Although some philosophers or psychologists  may criticise Stevie Wonder's idea of happiness, or at least that he sings about here, as being too dependent on that which is outside himself (i.e. "love" and "someone who needs" him) , he has plenty to say about his inner life as well as other people and perhaps other external things, making his conception of the good life far less shallow than those of many, and arguably very substantial. The classic from the film The Pursuit of Happyness [sic.] gives us the golden soundbite, "For once in my life I can go where life leads me" as well as a backdrop of typically grand Motown-grade soul.
10. Nirvana - 'Lithium'

This song's musings on the state of happiness go far beyond the opening lines "I'm so happy cause today I found my friends / They're in my head", but that quotation sets the tone pretty well, at least until the unstable, crashing-through-the-ceiling freakout of a chorus comes in. And lets not forget the lines either side of the refrains, "I'm not gonna crack". Lithium may be the name of a mood-stabilising drug (also sung about by Evanescence) but arguably this song is anything but tranquil. It remains essential listening like so many other tracks from Nevermind and Nirvana's eponymous greatest hits record. 

11. The Velvet Underground - 'We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together'

Lou Reed, the man behind 'Perfect Day' and the classic solo album Transformer, would have made his name with Velvet Underground first, had anyone paid significant attention when he was in the band, and the rapid-fire guitar rhythms provide evidence of his guitar prowess even in such a supposed anti-rock outfit that some would argue actually exemplifies that which it ostensibly hated: the spirit of rock 'n' roll. While many of its more blissful numbers are slower, this song which appears on the brilliant three-disc set The Complete Matrix Tapes and elsewhere creates a more frantic, foot-tapping kind of emotional high.

12. Queen - 'Don't Stop Me Now'

Possibly the greatest ever song that screams the word 'happiness' as loud as the squealings of Brian May's overdrive-laden guitar solo, few vocalists this side of Freddie Mercury could have turned in such a grandiose performance, one arguably as good as the band's earlier masterwork 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Despite an arguably questionable comparison of the ecstatic lyricist to "an atom bomb", this is still a bona-fide classic. Its overall mood and message shows happiness in two extremes: bursts of power which threaten to overwhelm, and the more sedate but equally blissful up-in-the-heavens kind of joy.   

13. Chic - 'Good Times'

Chic describes its title subject as "a new state of mind" which was arguably the antithesis of the "stress and strife" spoken of in reggae, punk, and metal during that decade and others, trouble to which Chic's lyrics called for an end. The song was sampled liberally for the equally joyous 'Rappers Delight' by hip-hop group The Sugarhill Gang. Quotations like "why hesitate?" and "Don't be a drag, participate!" are a call to action (or, perhaps more accurately the dancefloor), while this is just one track on which lead guitarist Nile Rogers made his name, laying the foundation for his reprised role as funk guitarist extraordinaire on Daft Punk's 'Get Lucky' in 2013.

14. R.E.M. - 'Shiny Happy People'

This R.E.M. hit featuring the B-52s' Kate Pierson on vocals alongside lead singer Michael Stipe and usual backing singer/multi-instrumentalist Mike Mills has been said to be about propaganda. Indeed many posters have featured 'shiny, happy people' and many lines in this song evoke an idea of a nation joined together in harmony where "there's no time to cry" and in which "tomorrow shines". One could say that this is about as happy as it gets lyrically, a view that the musical backing does little to undermine. However, some would say  behind the apparent joy lies a sinister reality. Indeed one can think of several, hardly idyllic societies which have put out propaganda idealising their part of the world with their posters and other media full of imagery like that employed here by R.E.M.

15. James Brown And The Famous Flames - 'I Got You (I Feel Good)'
That which Presley suggested was arguably made more explicit by Brown with his screams and grunts. Also in Brown's arsenal were even better dance moves and much better music that blurred the line between rhythm-and-blues and a new kind of music, funk. Although Brown did not have the nicest upbringing if his biopic Get On Up's portrayal of his early life is anything like reality, he certainly knew how to make a song not just pleasant (like, say, 'Unchained Melody' by The Righteous Brothers) but oozing with pleasures some would call forbidden. Only Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson can legitimately contend for the title often given to James Brown: The Godfather of Soul, and this song is evidence supporting the argument that Brown deserves that song as much as, or more than, those two.


The Weekly Froth! - 20160826

  • Published in Columns

The Weekly Froth! A weekly take on six tracks, most of which have recently popped up somewhere in the blogosphere. Bit of a mixed bag with a slight leaning towards house, disco, and remixes, but generally just anything that for some reason tickled the writer’s fancy.

The website Pitchfork just released their top 200 tracks of the Seventies, a decade infused with funk, synths, and all sorts of disco; music that this column is build around. Cherry picking through some of the punk and rock, here are six gems from that list that all y’all still can get down to on the dancefloor.

‘Haven’t You Heard’ by Patrice Rushen

You’ve got the rhythm right there from the get go on this disco song by Patrice Rushen. And, of course, that nice little guitar riff. After thirty seconds, the strings we know from disco come in as, in the mean time, the bass keeps bringing that groove. Then, at the minute mark, the sweet, sweet vocals of Patrice Rushen, who in the chorus gets some help from the girls in the back as they say I’ve been looking for you (haven’t you heard?). Girl, you made it loud and clear that you’re looking for a bit of love with this one. Just before the four minute mark the keys get a major solo, later helped out by some lovey-dovey strings. At 5:30 we, from whispery admissions of looking for love, go gospel a bit. It’s got all the hallmarks of that old school disco, from the groove to the instruments to the sweet vocals singing about love and realness. If you talk about classic disco, probably a track like this comes to mind. Number 199 on the Pitchfork list.

‘Could It Be I’m Falling In Love’ by The Spinners

It ain’t called Philly Soul for nothing, even if you are from Detroit. Moving from Atlantic to Sigma Sound in Philly, and adding in some help from the house band MFSB, The Spinners made this track, an epitomisation of what was called Sweet Soul, that thing that them at Philly were good at. And from the get go, you hear the sugar, the love, and the strings on this soul record, as the girls help out the guys as they wonder Could it be I’m falling in love?, further mentioning that Meeting you was my destiny. Just before Disco really exploded as dance music, this label was at their height, with the MFSB roster still in full swing, and with bands like the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, and indeed The Spinners charting for the city of brotherly love. And with this genre, who can argue? Number 184 on the Pitchfork list.

‘Girl, You Need A Change of Mind’ by Eddie Kendricks

This track can be said to be one of the first disco records, or at least is a track that already was inching eerily close to the upcoming trend. Also thanks to that snare that lays down the main “beat”. In the mean time, Motown’s Eddie Kendricks pleads that, Baby, you need a change of mind (what you say to that), after which the horns come in as all the men in the club sing a La-la-la-la-la line. It talks about how Love is a liberation, and it shirks close to a sweet talking right-into-yr-bed kind of thing, as he turns on the falsetto trying to persuade you to take his hand (I know you need me!). Add some piano plunking in as well, a sizeable 7 minute running time, and even a break for that bass and rhythm to take hold, and you’ve got something that those early seventies clubs could do some dancing to. Also, Baby, you need a change of mind can be a fantasy for a whole lot of people for a whole lot of things after that clock has struck midnight, of course. Number 173 on the Pitchfork list.

‘I Want Your Love’ by Chic

Chic are kind of the darlings of disco, and rightly so Nile Rodgers is finding fame and fortune even in today’s pop landscape. That bass and guitar riff, from the get go on this one, are fantastic, and how about those bells? Then the girls come in, waiting for another shot of love, and singing like they’ve already been alienated from reality and are now in a love infused haze. Fatalistically, they sing that they Want your love, and all of this song indicates that they simply cannot do without, presenting themselves on a silver platter while not reaching fulfilment. The guitar keeps strumming along, so restrained, and the whole mood seems to grab a different essence of disco then some of the more party-ish tracks that Chic made. A lot in their oeuvre was about celebrating pride and feeling proud about who you are and what you achieve, all the equality in that. This can also be interpreted as Disco’s other side, the need for going out another night, for finding yet another person (or three or four) that will validate you physically, and a devotion to that fit Marlboro man aesthetic. That unresolved desperation (even if it is resolved on a Saturday nightly basis) of hollow eyed men who can’t seem to quit it. And it works as a love song too, of course, though listen to the riff, those bell sounds at the six minute mark, and the distanced delivery of the vocals, and there’s, to me, something altogether not quite as celebratory about it as some of their greatest hits. Number 155 on the Pitchfork list.

‘Papa Was A Rolling Stones’ by The Temptations

Though Disco is seen as celebratory music first and foremost, there are many tracks within that disco/funk/soul spectrum that, next to the groove and the rhythm section, talked about the social issues of the time. Where disco was both African-American and gay, and where a lot of it celebrated the civil right movements of the time and their victories, black masculinity  and the identity of the African-American male were in full negotiation. And there came The Temptations, putting down the clamps on black male stereotypes with a deep bass, a cymbal beat, and a wah-wah guitar supplemented by the horns. And then, the tenor vocals singing about the African-American male’s discretions and putting all the pressure on the mother for the family, and the young boy to puzzle out his own manhood. The track takes aim at the pat-on-the-back-smile-in-your-face-while-cheating-on-your-wife thing, the smiley face saying that everything will be all right and I’ll take care of it but lo-and-behold, nothing gets done, nothing gets changed, and you’ve been taken for another loop. Scathingly packaged in a plethora of handclaps, bass, and guitar sounds. And strings, never forget the strings. Number 57 on the Pitchfork list.

‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough’ by Michael Jackson

The Off The Wall album by Michael Jackson has to be one of the most uplifting albums to ever be made. Put on the album, and you’re carried away for a ride of feel good fun, packaged in catchy dancefloor songs. ‘Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough’ is the opening tune, and already gives you a look into all the album is going to give you throughout its entire running time. It starts with that bass sound, the talking vocals, then the yelp, the light strings, the drums, and, lastly, the guitar riff that enters the fray. Jackson asks you to Let love take us through the hours, and he ensures you he won’t be complaining, giving perhaps the biggest evidence of that '60s mantra that sex is not only for reproduction, but also for fun. It’s the album I put on when I need/want/feel like a pop in my step, and this opener immediately brings it all. Number 2 on the Pitchfork list only after Bowie’s brilliant ‘Life On Mars?’, both rightfully in there I reckon.

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