90) Jimmy Soul – “If You Wanna Be Happy”

Call me humorless, but I never found “If You Wanna Be Happy” all that hilarious.  As far as jokes go, it’s as clever as “take my wife – please!” stretched out over two-plus minutes.  Plus, I’m never quite sure how women are supposed to take it. Should ugly women feel honored (it’s advising men to marry you!) or embarrassed (it states that ugly women have no other options and are grateful for the attention)? Are pretty women offended by being characterized as amoral hussies? And what do you do if that cute guy from civics class asks you to dance to it at Winter Formal? Maybe I’m overthinking this.  As far as questionable portrayals of women in song go, this is definitely on the warm-n-fuzzy end of the misogyny scale.

You know what could save the lyrics, though? Not sounding like a fugitive from Gary U.S. Bonds‘s reject bin.  So I was simultaneously shocked and not-shocked-at-all to read on Wikipedia that, yes, “If You Wanna Be Happy” was actually a Bonds leftover.  It’s got the handclaps, the whooping backing vocals, the concentrated effort at sounding as spontaneous as possible.  Jimmy Soul is a fine singer, and his delivery goes a long way toward imbuing the song with some degree of charm.  Still, after a run of terrific number ones, “If You Wanna Be Happy” is the speedbump that reminds us it can’t last forever. 4

Hit #1 on May 18, 1963; total of 2 weeks at #1
90 of 976 #1’s reviewed; 9.22% through the Hot 100



Filed under 04, 1963

3 responses to “90) Jimmy Soul – “If You Wanna Be Happy”

  1. Eddie George

    A was dating a ” not so attractive ” girl when this song
    was popular . I was a senior in High School, and had
    just broken up with the most beautiful girl in school;
    Homecoming Queen, Majorette, Cheer leader, etc., etc.
    I started dating the aforementioned girl almost out of
    spite against the ” beauty queen phonies ” !.
    She turned out to be a lot of fun. Great sense of humor.
    Easy going. Nice person.
    I saw her at a HS reunion a couple of years ago…..


    Makes you wonder.


  2. GeorgeL

    Yeah Eddie, I’ve noticed that many of the so-called plain janes really blossomed later on & looked great at the reunions.

    As for the song, a bit of harmless fun.

  3. ES

    Oh, man, don’t get me started. One of my least favorite songs ever — it screams drunken 1963 frat boys pissing on your front porch and setting your dog on fire. And it inexplicably still gets played, as if this was some sort of classic. (A year ago i felt the same emotion When “Wanted: Dead or Alive” and “Living on a Prayer” started getting played in my supermarket.)

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