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.