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