Thursday, 21 April 2011

The importance of insanely cheerful music

Music can help in several ways when negotiating a bleak trough. For instance, you can try going with the flow of misery by listening to something so appallingly gloomy that you start feeling sorry for the composer: Tchaikovsky’s incredibly self-pitying but utterly beautiful Sixth Symphony is in a class of its own in this respect – no one ever felt worse than this. (If this fails, try Mahler.)

Alternatively, I’ll go for huge, furious, classical thunder– the “Rex Tremendae” from Mozart’s Requiem, the fourth movement of Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 (graced by a stupendous organ), the final movement of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony or the “Battle on the Ice”from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky

I can’t listen to cheerful classical music when feeling low – it makes me feel inadequate, somehow (maybe because I tend to imagine concert-goers chortling in the background). Contrariwise, I do respond well to cheerful popular music – the more insanely and mindlessly upbeat, the better. 

I have no idea why this should be so.

My favourite “happy” record came on the car stereo while we were driving back from Cornwall earlier this week. I don’t know what effect it would have on a true depressive, but for those of us who merely feel a bit glum occasionally, surely Cuban bandleader Perez Prado’s “Guaglione”, first released in 1959, and a No. 2 hit in the UK in 1995 after being featured in a Guinness commercial, represents a sure-fire tonic. I defy anyone not to find themselves smiling goofily while listening to this ludicrously cheerful masterpiece. (1958’s “Patricia” can be substituted in an emergency.)

“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by the Andrews Sisters managed to keep everyone smiling in the latter stages of the war, so no wonder it has the same effect now. (The video helps.) I guess people were in need of cheering up in 1944. 

Louis Jordan’s 1946 bouncer, “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” is simply irresistible. So is Glenn Miller’s earlier train classic, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”

“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by the Four Lads triumphs because of the sheer idiocy of the lyrics – “Why did ‘Constantinople’ get the works?/That’s nobody’s business but the Turks”.

I only became aware of Harry Belafonte’s 1961 zestful, “Jump in the Line”, when it was featured in the 1985 Tim Burton movie, Beetlejuice, but it has been a favourite ever since.

The Diamonds’ 1957 hit, “Little Darlin’”, has proved a sure-fire boost to my spirits over the years. Ditto Freddy Cannon’s 1961 hit, “Palisades Park”

Trini Lopez’s happy-clappy version of “If I Had a Hammer” has been doing the trick for 49 years – the fact that he bleeds the song of any of its  intended “protest” elements just makes it even more endearing. 

Why does Quincy Jones’s “Soul Bossa Nova” work every time? It shouldn’t -  it really shouldn’t. The same goes for Henry Mancini’s “Baby Elephant Walk”, which is borderline insulting – but irresistible.
I’ve never been that keen on “comic” songs – even if they raise a smile on first hearing, you eventually want to track down the performer and assassinate them – but Jerry Reed’s Elvis tale, “Tupelo Mississippi Flash”, never palls.

Jonathan Richman’s 1977 LP Rock ‘n’ Roll with the Modern Lovers was a effective antidote to all those spotty English adolescent punks being angry on the one hand, and the fatuous pomposity of groups like Genesis and Yes on the other. I almost broke my leg dancing drunkenly to “South American Folk Song” soon after its release and it was over a decade before I could be convinced to make an arse of myself on a dance-floor again.

I was on a plane to Washington DC in 1992 when I first heard Marty Stuart’s version of “Doin’ My Time”. When Johnny Cash’s voice enters unexpectedly after the first instrumental break, I burst out laughing. No idea why. Still makes me smile every time.

And, of course, there’s always Leonard Cohen’s “Sisters of Mercy”.


  1. I don't know why you have it in for the much misunderstood laughing Len. Any one who can write "I had to do this, I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice" is a fun-lovin' kinda guy with a sense of irony. Anyway, your post gives me the excuse to recommend Jeff Beck's tribute to Les Paul - "Rock and Roll Party" some of which is on You Tube. Imelda May, slap back echo,'s all there.
    Saturday, April 23, 2011 - 10:33 AM

  2. Whenever my pianist brother and I attempt to improvise something serious and fail, misery is averted by playing a song called "Do the Congo Basso" from the film Helllzapoppin'. It's impossible not to smile. We've ended up adding verses of our own, rhyming "maraccas" with "Caracas" in an attempt to outdo each other with the dumbest lyrics.

    Which reminds me. Where is the long promised guitar post? It would surely put you in a better mood than trying to rationalise your weird UKIP leanings while large pantechnicons cut you up on the way to Cornwall.
    Saturday, April 23, 2011 - 10:46 AM

  3. Ex-KCS: "... trying to rationalise your weird UKIP leanings ..."

    It is weird. But not unprecedented.

    Think back to 24 January 2007 and one of Daniel Finkelstein's less good articles in The Times, 'Simon Heffer on UKIP: how can he not get it'*?

    This article of Mr Finkelstein's brought forth the following response, which may or may not prove relevant to Scott's pantechnicon-bound dilemma:

    "After Tim Congdon’s 11 January article in the Telegraph saying he was going to vote UKIP, Matthew d’Ancona was unleashed to deliver an amateur hatchet job on him.

    "According to d'Ancona, and I quote, Professor Congdon is no ordinary economist, he is one of the most articulate champions of monetarism, he has been a luminous presence in the world of conservative ideas for a quarter of a century, he is a serious man, he has stature and he is a brilliant economist. And yet, according to d'Ancona, the Professor has misunderstood Mr Cameron. Whose fault is that? And what chance do the rest of us have?

    "Am I seeing double? Are you [Daniel Finkelstein] doing the same thing? According to you, Simon Heffer is highly intelligent and cultured. And stupid, because he doesn’t get it. If he doesn’t get it, despite being highly intelligent and cultured, is that perhaps not because he is also stupid but because we who vote Conservative suffer at the moment from a PR man who cannot get his message across?

    "This knot gets more Gordian still, with the addition of a Paul Dacre string to the argument. How are we going to cut it? Oddly enough, I think the answer lies in your excellent article on corruption, in today’s Times.

    "How can they all three not get it? It could be that the NotGetIt 3 are all indulging in post-modern irony. Or, I submit to you, it could be that Messrs Congdon, Heffer and Dacre dislike the corruption of the present government, that they feel that corruption lies in an ever more bloated administration, promising everything, delivering nothing and listening to no-one. The government's corruption in turn corrupts the people and, it is conceivable, NGI3 would rather people weren’t corrupted. Perhaps they would like to see a smaller government, with resources allocated by the market instead of politicians. And, it may be, they cannot hear this message where they would expect to hear it, in the mouth of the leader of the Conservative party. NGI3 have a set of policies which they support, they look around for a party advocating these policies – this is all surmise, remember – and to their surprise as much as yours, all they can see is UKIP."

    Saturday, April 23, 2011 - 06:03 PM

  4. Actually, I do get it DM. It;'s human nature to buy a dog that looks like the old faithful friend that you've just had to have put down because it's bitten the postman. But like all those Save the Planet liberals who voted Green and got bonkers socialism, careful what you wish for. Who apart from Farage, who is bad enough, is there in UKIP?

    I suspect that the wily Gronners knows that the Tory high command reads his blog and will react. It is no coincidence that days after his post, Cameron made the speech on immigration that caused genius economist Vince Cable such pain.
    Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 10:30 AM

  5. Herb Alpert's Spanish Flea...there, it's off my chest at last. Casino Royale as well...and Jackie Wilson Reet Petite. Bird on a Wire alwaysleaves me chuckling.
    Sunday, April 24, 2011 - 11:11 PM

  6. Ex-KCS –until your comment, I was utterly unaware of the Jeff Beck Rock ‘n’ Roll Party clips, and I’d never heard of Imelda May, who is terrific! I almost included a Les Paul track in my list (“Caravan”) but there was just something self-satisfiedly and slappably smug about the man. As for Mr. Beck, will be, I suspect, our GLG (Greatest Living Guitarist), despite (or perhaps because of) the Nigel Tufnell hair-do – should he outlive the great James Burton. He has always struck me as a far more original and sprightly performer than Clapton, for instance, who often looks like he’s going through the motions. Beck and Burton always look like they’re massively enjoying what they’re doing. Anyway, many thanks for the recommendation(s). And I admit that any song containing with the lines “Dance the Conga Basso/Doesn’t cost a peso” is worth a listen.

    I too am an – albeit reluctant – Herb Alpert fan, Harumphrey: I particularly
    enjoy his insanely upbeat version of “A Taste of Honey” and “Tijuana Taxi” is also irresistible. I wonder if it’s the fact that so many Latin American countries are hell-holes that forces the music to be so damned happy.

    The guitar post will appear soon, ex-KCS – sorry for the delay!
    Monday, April 25, 2011 - 12:30 PM

  7. I’ll try not to sound too pompous regarding my UKIP leanings, but I really don’t want to end up like those disgusting Western communist idiots who welcomed German victories during the early part of WWII because of the Nazi-Soviet pact. If it walks, talks and acts like a duck, chances are it’s a duck: Cameron walks, talks and acts like a left-of-centre liberal, so I have to assume he is one. Whining about multiculturalism on the one hand while trying to force our universities to accept more black candidates, whatever their academic qualifications, just won’t wash: either universities are centres of excellence, or they’re just another means of social levelling.

    Thanks, DM – I wish I’d read your comment in 2007, as it might have saved me some time reaching what now seems like an inevitable conclusion. As for the point about UKIP being a bunch of unimpressive nonentities – granted! It’s just that their hearts and brains happen to be in the right place. The only way that’s going to change is if enough people whose opinions do count for something plus those whose opinions don’t count for anything (i.e. me) don’t choose to support the party whose policies match our opinions, that will never change. I was annoyed by Heffer’s continual carping about Cameron after he became party leader – but he’s been dead right all along.
    Monday, April 25, 2011 - 12:49 PM