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15 Great Songs About Happiness And Good Times - Part One

A brilliant, starlight sky. A loving wife. A new car. Do any of those summarise what happiness means to you? Or do you look inwardly? And how secure, and obtainable, is happiness? Philosophers, self-styled self-help gurus and psychologists have, as Derren Brown's book Happy makes clear, come up with different answers to at least some of these questions over the years. Yet few songs, even amongst the uptempo ones, are truly joyous, blissful, happy. That said, many others give us a view of happiness that isn't exactly straight out the creative department in the TV show Mad Men. In fact, some songs about the subject are anything but happy. Step aboard for a rocky ride of euphoria, anxiety and analysis, amongst many other things. If there's one thing most that study happiness can agree on, it's that experiencing 'good times', or seeking to, can be looked at from many different angles. Here's a sweeping panorama of the grand, anything-but-shallow subject, even if some of the songs about it aren't the most profound ever written: 

1. 'I Feel Fine' - The Beatles

Although it has been said that this George Harrison composition about the joy of having someone love him is the first, at least among number one singles, to feature guitar feedback, it is notable for a far more obvious reason: the amount of pure joy it inspires. That's not to mention excellent guitar work, some of the best among The Beatles' canon. Slices of Sixties euphoria don't get much better than this. While they would later have some rather strange notions about happiness (Lennon described it lyrically as being "...A Warm Gun") and other hits related to such a feeling (like 'Hey Jude') , this song is arguably as straight-forward as Beatles lyrics get while retaining such immense greatness.

2. 'Happy Is A Yuppie Word' - Switchfoot

In stark contrast to the previous song, this one starts with the phrase "Everything dies". Apparently inspired by the 'speculative wisdom' of Ecclesiastes and perhaps other pessimistic literature, Switchfoot still manage to inspire with their view of happiness with such lines as "Blessed is the man who's lost it all", which recalls Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, while remaining grounded in a soberly realistic mindset. The same singer Jon Foreman who reminds us that "Nothing is sound" is also so daring in his positivity as to claim "Nothing in the world can fail me now". It might not be the greatest song by Switchfoot, but it is far from one-dimension in its views of happiness.
3. 'Dusty' - Soundgarden

On this arguably cheerful, out-of-character 1996 song by the usually gloomy Seattle band Soundgarden, the apparently joyful lyrics are countered by quite-heavy backing as well as a bluesy feel on the guitars and indulgence in typically abnormal timings, much of which suggests an undercurrent of comedowns, chaos, confusion and similar unhappy happenings. In this way one finds similarities with AllMusic's take on Ice Cube's 'It Was A Good Day', a hip-hop track which they said showed "a quiet sense of violent anxiety", thought perhaps the word "quiet" does not apply to 'Dusty' so much. The lyric about things "turning back around" in this Soundgarden classic shows that happiness can be based on a brighter future as well as good times simply found in the here-and-now, something also shown in the yearning 'Boot Camp' from the same album, Down On The Upside.

4. 'High' - James Blunt

An early single from singer-songwriter and ex-military serviceman James Blunt, 'High' is about being at the top of the emotional spectrum, but also confronts worries about the future, while the line "Sometimes it's hard to believe you believe me" hints that perhaps he feels his happiness is undeserved or an event that could easily have not happened. Such a mixture of moods explicit or implied is interesting: even a few minutes' worth of songwriting here does not show a kind of bliss unrestrained or detached from everything else, even if it is truly blissful at times. The opening phrase about the "dawn" links Blunt's emotional heights to a common cause of such feeling, beauty, which is also the subject of his hit, "You're Beautiful" that's also present on the Back To Bedlam album.        

5. 'From Can To Can't' - Corey Taylor, Grohl, Nielsen, Reeder

Featuring Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters star Dave Grohl on both the opening guitar and drums, this track from the Sound City Players' album also features Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick (guitar) and Kyuss' Scott Reeder (bass) backing Stone Sour and Slipknot vocalist Corey Taylor on singing duties. "All these people - tragic little people - they're smiling and they don't know what for" sings Taylor in one of the clearest denouncements of happiness on an album as popular as this, right after a line about "Burning my cathedrals [a great source of happiness for some] 'cause I don't pray anymore". Feel good hit? Maybe not. Leave that to Grohl's co-collaborators Queens Of The Stone Age ... 

6. 'Palo Alto' - Radiohead

One of the few feel-good tracks in the Radiohead catalogue if read at face value, one might suggest given the pessimism of other works by Thom Yorke and company such as 'Planet Telex' and 'Let Down', that such good cheer is a mere veneer behind which they criticise or sneer at the corporate West and Silicon Valley. Appropriately forward looking, in terms of its effects, for a song about "the city of the future", it is also arguably overly simple. However, it still sounds great thanks to the majesty of Radiohead's array of skills, one that makes even songs that are relatively poor compared to, say, 'Karma Police' an enjoyable trip out. While this may be a throwaway by their usual standards, in another band's hands it could be considered their best work. This shows how out-of-place happier material can seem with certain bands, and also its hit-making potentially if used by certain other acts on the sunnier sides of the spectrum.

7. 'Just Looking' - Stereophonics

One of the sadder songs about happiness, this one is clearly about consumerism, a common source of happiness, or at least a quick attempt at it, in the modern capitalist world. More accurately, it's about "not buying" but "just looking" because it "keeps me smiling". Full of self-doubt ("There's things I think I want / Do I want the dreams: the ones we're forced to see?") and using individual anxieties to critique a much larger system, such analysis, shot through with emotion and complete with a pop/rock chorus, reinforces the claim that Kelly Jones and his fellow Stereophonics are a band for the working class, especially those that like to rock out.
8. 'Family Portrait' - Pink

A common theme in music is how things are not as they might seem, and such is the main trope of 'Family Portrait' in which a family are said to "look pretty happy"  but surrounding verses give the impression that reality is anything but picture-perfect. Although arguably too direct in its moralizing, the song was nonetheless a hit, sitting (un)comfortably alongside the likes of 'Just Like A Pill'. While dysfunctional, unhappy families are appeared in other tracks, few have been this good at balancing commercial value with seemingly unusual (in the context of hit records) but, in actuality, bluntly realistic imagery.


Primavera Sound 2016, Barcelona - Day 2

  • Published in Live


It’s not only the well-known that get a crack at convincing the Primavera crowds, as the young Moses Sumney plays the Pitchfork stage early on in the second day. And, really, he hadn’t expected over a handful people to be there, let alone the sizeable hand he gets dealt early evening. “Who lied to you?”, he asks, smiling, as in his mind the reason people are there cannot possibly be him and his music. He is certainly enjoying himself, treating the audience on one hand to slow, soul & country inspired tracks, and on the other hand he gets the looping pedals going, doing the claps, vocal lines, and other assorted sounds to provide, in the end, a full fledged track over which he sings with a soulful, velvety voice.

The middle part sees most of the slow songs, dragging the pacing a bit, and some of the loops go wrong a tad. Which one can forgive since he does everything himself. In the second to last song he gets the second rhythm clap just a tad wrong, but after a moment’s hesitation decides to just go with it as, well, festival time is unforgiving with the short set-up times between bands. On the whole though, Sumney is pleasant to listen to and, with the sunglasses and cape and the fact he does everything himself, nice to look at. If the album lives up to this promise, maybe next time he is accustomed to those numbers in front of him today.

Same stage, half an hour later, it’s Nao. Her backing band comes on, all in black, and with the slight electronic tinge that her EP has, one perhaps expects something mysterious or broody or the likes. And there she comes, dancing, beaming, and all smiles in the most summery, colourful dress anyone has probably ever owned. The band adds some oomph and takes away some of the cold from her EP, instead even rocking it a bit with some guitar riffs and the likes. In the mean time, Nao is doing the dancing and the singing, both convincingly and with enthusiasm, so much so that it gets contagious. She ends with her track ‘Zillionaire’, which is basically an ode to loving and being happy (as money don’t mean a thang). That is what she not only sings, but exudes as well, and the message gets across.

As far as headliners go, they just don’t get much bigger than Radiohead. It’s silly to expect anything less than a simply jam packed field full of people, an undoubtedly eclectic mix between the die hard creeps, those that never leave the main stage area anyway, and those curious by the skyscraper like reputation of Thom Yorke and band. Surprisingly, the sound even in the belly of the beast is excellent, the band even at times visible due to the slightly upwards curve of the field, and all those kinds of people (after an initial hush by the fans unable to get further upfront) join in with attentively listening to the band. Unheard of, really, and Radiohead manages to cash in on that and deliver a super set.

The band goes from super small to a bigger sound, to more experimental to the hits that everyone knows. ‘Paranoid Android’ is there, a superb version of ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’, and the band connects so much with all them fans that the crowd spontaneously erupts in a chorus of For a minute there, I lost myself. And then, at the end, the gut punch, the heartbreaker, the ode to all the people who are prone to gather at the Primavera festival; "I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here". It takes a second encore to get there, but they get there, and you can see it’s what many people wanted to hear and the lines with which they want to join in and resonate.

Holly Herndon’s album isn’t the easiest listen, but I’ve worked my way through my share of experimental sounds, including hers on tape. Live, though, she goes from experimental and outside of the box to downright inhospitable, making it such a tough listen for me that I’m finding myself moving further and further away until I’m nowhere near the stage anymore. I’m not demanding three chord songs and verse-chorus-verse structures, but these sounds asked for a ticket that I didn’t have on me, excluding me rather quickly from whichever group it is that might enjoy her live show.

On the Adidas stage it is Shura who brings her brand of dreamy electro/synth-pop to a crowd that already includes some definite fans, eagerly awaiting her arrival and giving her the idol treatment. I like her songs, but despite her at one point donning a guitar and moving all over the stage, the band’s sound seems a notch too tame to really win the votes and hearts of those out there. Compared to a Nao earlier that day, and Jessy Lanza the day before, it feels a bit too sleepy-headed, making it a slight dud to end the second day with.

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