Song: “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
Reached #1: September 24, 1988 (his first, 2 weeks)
Face it. You read the title, and the song went off in your head like an alarm clock. It’s inescapable.
“Don’t Worry Be Happy” may have come out a few years too early in one respect – can you imagine the Internet memes it would have spawned had it come out, say, in 1998 instead of 1988?
As it was, the song has a fascinating backstory – it’s taken from a quote by a man who once declared himself the Avatar of our era (and no, I don’t mean a movie!). Meher Baba, an Indian mystic (and, apparently, oddball), worked the phrase “don’t worry be happy” into his philosophy. McFerrin saw a Meher Baba poster in a San Francisco apartment, was inspired, and wrote the song.
He also performed the song – it’s a cappella. All of the “music” is McFerrin overdubbed on himself.
In one of the many examples of politics crossing with music, the 1988 George Bush campaign adopted the song as its theme song (which, if you think about it, is kind of sad since “don’t worry be happy” reeks of denial). McFerrin’s a Democrat, so not only did he protest the Bush campaign using his music, he stopped playing the song in concert – at the height of its popularity – so that it was understood he didn’t provide it to Bush.
I don’t know if it’s fair to say that the song sank McFerrin’s pop career – I think it’s more that he realized he couldn’t top it or escape it, and focused on his other interests. He’s a classical conductor, jazz singer, and music teacher – although his classical appearances include some unusual touches, such as a cappella renditions of classical pieces.
In the end, it seems that Bobby McFerrin is happy, indeed.
Tomorrow we go from one of pop’s happiest songs to one of its most apocalyptic.
Other songs that reached #1 on September 24:
1966 – “Cherish” by the Association (their first, 3 weeks)
1983 – “Tell Her About It” by Billy Joel (his second, 1 week)