Some people on a certain message board were making mix CDs for each other in a flagrant violation of copyright laws, and I got to thinking what I would include if I were to make a mix CD to send to all my friends. It should have a particular theme, I thought, and the theme I chose was: Happy Songs.
These are songs that make me happy. In most cases, it’s because they’re just so darn peppy that I always feel like dancing when I hear them. (Please note that I seldom dance in public. But I often WANT to.) Some of them even go a little beyond that, with moods and melodies that actually inspire me, in addition to being toe-tappers.
So here’s the track list for my mix CD. I’ve uploaded it as an iMix at iTunes (follow this link), where you can hear 30-second samples and download songs if you want to.
What tunes would you put on your Happy Songs iMix? Discuss.
1. “Bizarre Love Triangle,” New Order (1986). This is probably my favorite song from the 1980s New Wave movement. The mix of drums (OK, drum machines) and strings (OK, synthesized strings) is the very definition of dance-floor happiness. (There are extended versions, but I prefer the 3:51 original.)
2. “Hey Julie,” Fountains of Wayne (2003). One of the few songs on this list whose lyrics matter. (In most cases, it’s just the music I love.) Not only is the tune catchy and cute, but the lyrics are sweet and heartfelt, about this swell gal who helps make the guy’s life livable.
3. “Hey Ya,” Outkast (2003). Man, did this thing get overplayed in 2003 and 2004. But man, is it ever a fun song.
4. “All of Me,” Jon Schmidt (1991). This is a piano solo by Jon Schmidt, a Utah native whose music is somewhere between pop-rock and Mannheim Steamroller. Some of his compositions could be considered schmaltzy, but “All of Me” is a brilliant piece of work. After a tranquil opening, it launches into a rapid-fire barrage of harmonies and counter-rhythms, as catchy and energizing a song as I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear it, I catch some new rhythm or melody I hadn’t noticed before.
5. “Hourglass,” Squeeze (1987). I defy you not to tap your toes or bob your head. Oh, and sing along with the patter-y chorus.
6. “Starry Eyed Surprise,” Paul Oakenfold, vocals by Shifty Shellshock (2002). In this case, it’s not that the song makes me “happy,” exactly, but that it’s impossible for me not to boogie just a little when I hear it. When I used to do music for ComedySportz in Provo, I would often play this song as exit music after a show. As the audience filed out, I would always see many of them dancing as they did.
7. “Best of My Love,” the Emotions (1977). One year at the Sundance Film Festival’s low-key, super-fun awards ceremony, a technical glitch caused a delay in starting the show. To keep the energy up and everyone happy, they told us to stand up at our seats and dance (“Sun-dance,” get it?). This is the song they played, and sure enough, everyone danced, including Roger Ebert.
8. “Sing, Sing, Sing,” Benny Goodman (1937). You’ve definitely heard this swing tune, whether you know the name or not. It has lyrics, but the best recordings don’t use ’em. Not only do I want to dance when I hear Goodman’s version, I want to be a bandleader, too.
9. “I’m the Man Who Loves You,” Wilco (2002). A little bluesy (what with all those 7th chords and the general structure), a little rock ‘n’ roll, even a little country. It feels groovy, you know? Oh, and the words are about a guy who is trying to put his feelings into a letter, but he can’t seem to do it. “If I could, you know I would just hold your hand and you’d understand I’m the man who loves you.” Beautiful.
10. “Walking on Sunshine,” Katrina and the Waves (1985). Overused? Overplayed? Yes. Ridiculously upbeat and shiny? You betcha!
11. “New York City,” They Might Be Giants (1996). I could put one of about 30 different TMBG songs on this list; the band is practically synonymous with fun, catchy tunes. But this one (a cover of a song by the defunct girl group Cub) is one of my favorites, with happy and sentimental lyrics about one of my favorite places in the world.
12. “In Between Days,” Ben Folds (2003). Another cover, this time of a song by the Cure. I like the original, but I love Ben Folds’ piano-tastic version. The syncopated rhythm of the main piano riff played against the steady beat of the drums is great.
13. “Do Your Thing,” Basement Jaxx (2003). Some of the best dance songs are about dancing. (See also: “Starry Eyed Surprise.”) This one says the best way to get happy is to shake your money-maker (or words to that effect). It’s the piano-heavy sample that makes it a stand-out, though.
14. “Right Back Where We Started From,” Maxine Nightingale (1976). You hear this one a lot in movies. It’s a good all-purpose feel-good happy song.
15. “We Close Our Eyes,” Oingo Boingo (1987). I’m not a huge fan of Oingo Boingo’s particular brand of ’80s synthesized merriment, but this song’s hummable tune and earnest lyrics always put a smile on my face.
16. “You Got It,” Roy Orbison (1988). Orbison’s career spanned 30 years, and this was one of the last songs he recorded. The lyrics are simply sweet (“Anything you want, you got it”), and the chord progression in the chorus gives the song an added plaintiveness.
17. “Friday I’m in Love,” The Cure (1992). The Cure is most famous, and rightfully so, for being depressing. But this song is just the opposite: One of the things I like best about it is that the upbeat tempo never stops, not for a bridge, not for a coda, never. It starts happy, and it’s happy for the whole 3 1/2 minutes. It perfectly captures the thrilling feeling of being in love.
18. “Endicott,” Kid Creole & the Coconuts (1985). This delightful island-tinged dance tune came to my attention when the video for it was featured in a Dr. Demento TV special many years ago. (It’s not a particularly “funny” song, but it is lighthearted.) It’s the bass line that makes your bootie shake.
19. “Murder (or a Heart Attack),” Old 97s (1999). More relentlessly peppy music. Just fun.
20. “Mr. Brightside (Jacques Lu Cont’s Thin White Duke Mix),” The Killers (2005). Jacques Lu Cont is a producer and DJ whose real name is Stuart Price. The Killers’ album version of this song is great, but this 9-minute remix expands on it in amazing ways, somehow making it feel introspective, anthemic and hopeful all at once. (The 30-second sample iTunes uses doesn’t accurately represent the song, though, because the drums haven’t kicked in yet.)