That is what people will say if you mention Bobby McFerrin. But start to sing “Don’t worry”, they will instantly join in “be happy”, and most of the time will also start to smile.
I too knew “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, a novelty hit from 1988, which I liked at the time and still do, but did not know the name of the artist or anything about him. I assumed that, in common with most novelty hits, it was a fluke. The planets had aligned, a musician had a brief and lucrative 15 minutes of fame, before returning to a career in forensic accounting.
This is why, on Planet Vinyl, we never assume anything. We listen, and then dig up some information. I was utterly and completely wrong. I began to suspect this when, with zero expectations, I played the B-side of this single. What unfolded was a beguiling, funny, acapella, bebop-meets-rap hymn in praise of domestic life, the “Simple Pleasures” of the title. As a man in his middle years who has come to understand and love concepts such as “home” and “family” and “marriage”, things which once I was cynical about – this was a discovery. Who is Bobby McFerrin? I wondered.
He is a wonder, a true original. Born in 1950 in a musical family – both his parents were opera singers – he grew up loving jazz, especially Miles Davis, and studied piano and excelled at it, but also became a vocalist of such inventiveness and originality that he transcended the genre, and jazz is a pretty tough genre to transcend. Using his voice and body in extraordinary ways, he was, as one song title put it, his own sound system.
“Simple Pleasures” is the title track of an album which includes a version of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”, complete with a vocal “electric guitar” solo. If there is one bad thing about jazz, it is that it can be a thin-lipped and exclusionary world, and McFerrin’s inventiveness and success offended some pretentious folk. To which, I have now doubt, he would have replied “Don’t worry, be happy”.
- Artist: Bobby McFerrin
- Single Title: Don’t Worry, Be Happy
- Track: Side B “Simple Pleasures”
- Format: 7”, 45 rpm
- Label: EMI-Manhattan MH.2131
- Manufactured in: Australia
- Year: 1988
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