Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin (1988)

Okay, a bit obvious, I realise. there is, today at least, pretty much no one on the planet that will deny the fact that this song is about as enjoyable as getting a root canal and an enema simultaneously. What amazes me, though, about it is simply just how wrong-headed it is.

I will come out and say this right now: Bobby McFerrin is awesome. Type his name into YouTube, click on any video not featuring Robin Williams, and what ensues will be awesomeness. His schtick, making clucking and singing noises while thumping his chest, doesn't seem very promising, but he really can make beautiful music.

I guess there's something to be said for 'selling out', if you realise you want your career to be in music and if your chosen format (a capella free improvisation) doesn't always inspire the millions. I don't blame Bobby McFerrin for making a cheery pop song in order to line his wallet. But this song is just so fatuous, so glib, so smug and so ear-bleedingly annoying that it had, ultimately, a detrimental effect on his career, I imagine. It's the "I Just Called to Say I Love You" effect writ large, but at least Stevie Wonder had almost 20 years of popular genious behind him at the time. This song could do nothing more than make McFerrin a permanent one-hit-wonder, and even worse, a Crazy Frog style one-hit-wonder.

What's so god-awful about it? Well, the cod-reggae is unpleasant as a capella, but it's tolerable compared to the cheesy Jamaican accents in the song. (Jamaica in the 80s built an entire marketing campaign around the phrase "No Worries": this, I guess, is the rationale for the Jamaican overtones.) The dumbing-down of serious problems into an insulting "forget-about-it" philosophy. The whistling. The spoken-word interjections. The whole nauseating mess. As Chuck D pointed out in "Fight the Power", this garbage went to number one. Atrocious.

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  1. Do you really think he could have known this ridiculous a capella song would be a smash hit? I don't think the selling out charge holds up.

  2. Well, if you listen to most of his other stuff though, it's completely out of character - normally he works in jazz, and then he comes up with this cod-reggae, non-improvisational thing. Say it's not 'selling out' if you want, but it's definitely working in a completely different, normally more saleable, genre. And given how easily jazz fans can turn on artists who make non-jazz releases, it would have been a brave thing to do if he thought it was going to stiff.