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Happy Little Trees: A Playlist
Posted on January 10, 2019
by Tim P
I was going to write up a playlist of songs that make me happy and songs that make me sad, but as Dwight said in the Office “I’m just tired. The days are short. I don’t know. Maybe I’m depressed,” so I jettisoned the sad to cheer myself up. Not all of these songs are traditionally happy, but they uplift me just the same.
Below, you’ll find a collection of songs that make me happy, none of which are “Happy” by Pharrell Williams (no offense to him. I really like N.E.R.D. and the Neptunes!)
I grew up watching The Monkees’ TV show and went to Seligman Brothers records on Sylvania to score some vinyl. I found the single for “Goin’ Down” which had “Daydream Believer” as a B-side. I absolutely loved it. And I still do. Hearing it makes me think of when I was a kid. Still. Every single time.
Someone who gets way less credit than they deserve. Bill Withers was a factory worker (the photo of the cover of his first album Just As I Am was taken on his lunch break) who just happened to be an incredible song writer. He wrote amazing folk/soul for a while but by 1977’s Menagerie he had moved into a more adult contemporary style. I prefer the earlier stuff, but that’s just me. What Menagerie did have was “Lovely Day,” and wow. It’s so sweet and upbeat! The choruses are incredibly uplifting but I have no idea how he can hold the note on the word “Day” for so long. Just like he kept going with the “I know” part on the earlier “Ain’t No Sunshine.” That’s some real vocal control.
Ok, so Nick Drake is probably the poster boy for sad fella music. His songs run the gambit from “melancholy” to “hey, where do you keep your razor blades?”. They’re all wonderful songs, they just aren’t terribly uplifting. Except “Northern Sky.” Released on his second album, Bryter Layter, it’s absolutely glorious. Beginning with the line “I never felt magic crazy as this” the song builds and builds until the Hammond organ swells over at around the 2:15 mark. A blaze of sunlight from someone surrounded by darkness.
Not a happy song, not by a long shot. But for some reason, I find it incredibly uplifting. The tale of a teenager taking a bottle from his stepfather and going to the arcade to play video games with a girl he likes, the song takes a nasty turn when he returns home. Acknowledging how awful his life usually is, the chorus is simply “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.” See? Not exactly Chicken Soup For The Soul. But, for some reason, it fills me with joy.
A song filled with allegorical things that Sam Beam saw when out walking, none of which I understand! The lyrics (which, again, I have no idea what they mean) are wonderful! Lines like “I saw sinners making music, and I’ve dreamt of that sound” or “I saw kindness and an angel, crying “Take me back home.” Seriously, no clue. But I love it just the same. It just seems so hopeful.
Sure, the lyrics are some sort of claptrap about oceans being born and moats and boats and whatever, but when Ben Gibbard sings “So come on!” over and over, it lifts my soul so high that the rest of the words doesn’t matter.
I’ll admit Outkast slipped by me. As amazing as their first three albums are, I missed it, I don’t know why. So when I first heard “B.O.B.” off of their fourth album Stankonia on a CMJ compilation, my jaw just dropped. The song was so fast. It was basically speed metal with incredibly nimble rhyming over it, then a breakdown with chanting over it, THEN a midtempo part with almost gospel-like vocals. W.O.W.! And it still thrills me, although it’s best if I don’t listen to it when I drive.
Although “Massive Nights” off of Boys And Girls In America is a way more fun and joyful song with its chanted “Whoaaah” vocals, “Cutters,” from the follow up album Stay Positive, is the song that gets me. Neither fun nor joyful, it tells the tale of a college student who gets mixed up with “townies” (The Cutters in the title is a reference to the wonderful film “Breaking Away“). There’s a fight and a stabbing and a trial where “her father’s lawyers do most of the talking” (Craig Finn is probably my favorite lyricist right now), and I sing along at top volume no matter where I’m listening to it. Don’t know why, just do.
British Invasion band The Zombies had already broken up by the time (of the season) their masterpiece Odessey And Oracle had come out. It’s absolutely incredible. Baroque melodies mixed together with majestic vocals in three minute songs. And my favorite is “This Will Be Our Year.” I’ve never been the most optimistic person, but this song makes my soul half full. I play it every New Year’s Eve, which would probably annoy all of the others at whichever party I was at, but it’s so glorious, I have a feeling they don’t mind.
“Georgy Girl” was the theme song for a movie of the same name. Co-written by Jim Dale (who narrated the Harry Potter books on CD and the TV show Pushing Daisies, and also appeared in the British Carry On movies) and Tom Springfield (Dusty’s brother!), it was performed by Australian band The Seekers, who would soon become The New Seekers and would like to teach the world to sing.
“Windy” was written by Ruth Friedman (who also wrote songs featured in the cult biker movie The Peace Killers). It was performed by American band The Association, a sunshiny pop band with psychedelic aspirations who would have close to a thousand different members throughout their lifetime (exaggerating, kind of). Both of these songs sound somewhat similar and they both make me happy.
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