Well first there's the title. You can call a song Happy, but can you deliver? And then 40 years on, can you have another? The answers are yes and yes. First The Rolling Stones and then Pharell Williams, who may possibly be aware of each other, if only from Googling that particular title.
The Stones, not always given to celebrations of positive emotion around the time of Exile On Main Street, got a tasty slice of day-glo colored fun from their rhythm guitar player, Keith Richards, a guy who does the world a giant favor every time he steals the mic from Mick Jagger. I like Mick and I adore Keith — but honestly?... they both have some limitations in the vocal department. Yet somehow, they rise above the strangled yelps they were born with. Jagger does so with stylistic swagger and ridiculous exaggeration, while Keith uses pure verve, of which he seems to have an endless supply.
Their Happy is wonderful, scratchy, feisty and a few drinks (and who knows what else) past closing time. The Stones invented this wicked smile and their song receives millions of spins daily from people trying to steal a little of that vibe. Never was the promise of a title so perfectly wrapped up and delivered by the song that followed. Until Pharrell Williams came along, that is.
Smooth where the Stones are all gravel, Williams is Cosby to their Lenny Bruce. My wife saw him cry on Oprah today (Disclaimer: She never watches daytime TV, it was posted on the world's largest social network). He had been shown tribute videos to the song that defines the word "ubiquitous" in 2014 and shed genuine tears. On Saturday Night Live he sang it and danced with children and he seemed at least as young and innocent.
Yes. I've bought all the way in — who hasn't? I like to think it's not his People Magazine ready smile, but the perfectly-executed pop changes and sterling production, coupled with his slinky delivery. Plus, the guy is a great singer. There's at least ten gallons of talent underneath that hat.
Usually I like to analyze the chord progression, which is so simple and perfect it's a wonder nobody used it before. But school's out, baby. With its one note chorus and vaguely Latin verse, everything about it says the guy has done his homework. The ease with which he and the song seduce the ears and then the brain raises a puzzling question: If it's all so effortless and simple, why doesn't it happen all the time?
With no answers forthcoming from a silent universe, I might as well do like most everyone on the planet — put it on again and dance. It might be a while before the next great Happy.