One on One | Don’t Worry Be Happyby Andy Davis / 04.11.2011
Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy” might just be the greatest bit of pop music ever recorded. It also became the first a cappella song to hit number 1 on the Billboard charts, where it sat for 2 weeks before being dislodged by some crap nobody remembers. And while the song got a lot of critical acclaim back in the late 80s, winning Grammys for Best Song, Best Record and best Male Pop Vocal Performance, it still remains trapped in the stunted plastic milieu of pop. If ever there was an example of the limited power of pop music to effect any real change, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is your poster boy. I mean the song is elegant, catchy and illuminatingly profound in it’s simplicity, this is the kind of shit that should burp the human evolutionary bottle neck forward. “Don’t Worry Be Happy” could well have been the second coming of Christ. Can you imagine the big JC explaining the new strategy to the fundamentalist right wing mid-Western types: “Look, you didn’t get it the first time round with that ‘love your neighbour’ shit, so now I’m going to be real simple and straight forward here… 4 words. Don’t worry, be happy. Get it?”
No coincidence that the dude looks a lot like Black Jesus. Just saying…
The song kind of mirrors Bobby McFerrin’s own career. Widely regarded as a musical genius, (he personally has 10 Grammy awards sitting on the shelf gathering dust in his New York apartment). McFerrin recorded his only major commercial hit without the aid of any musical instruments, just a series of looped and overdubbed vocal harmonies and other sounds he made in the studio. He’s basically the archetype of the vocal innovator, godfather of the beatbox, patron saint of vocal loops. Not to mention the fact that he’s also a world-renowned classical conductor and has collaborated on a number of wildly original jazz and classical joints with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and has, to his credit, sold over 20 million copies of his albums world wide. But thanks to pop music, he kinda sticks in the collective memory as that stoned rasta bloke who sang “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.
And if you were still stuck on the religio-angle and the total inability of pop music to affect meaningful personal enlightenment, the song’s title is taken from a famous quote by the revered Indian mystic and sage, Meher Baba who roamed this earthly plane from 1894 to 1969 expounding the virtues of this simple philosophy: “Do your best. Then, don’t worry; be happy, I will help you.” I mean how can there be any doubt that this guy was onto something? Just look at him.
And so McFerrin nicked his words and dropped a catchy little pop tune a cappella beatbox thing that went just about as big as a pop tune can go, disseminated around the world, heard by billions, and we the people, missing our big shot at transcendence, kind of grooved it for a moment, smiled painfully for a nanosecond, shrugged and went back to squabbling, kvetching and stiffing one another.
But it’s Friday so maybe you’re in the mood for a second shot. Sit back, turn up those shitty speakers and plug into that universal smile.
Please excuse the camp 80s video.
Fridays are One on One day at Mahala. One scene, one song, one image, product or design that’s made a real difference to you with its power, originality, brilliance or emotion. Tell us why it matters. Convince us it changed your life. Show us why we need to experience it for ourselves. Send yours in and we’ll publish the best. Up to 400 words. The best one each month gets R500 bucks. There are no rules. Write it how you want us to read it. Get involved.