It’s not unique for a song from a movie soundtrack to hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s charts, but it is unusual. When it happens, it’s typically the title track or a love song. Many James Bond films have rocketed their title track to the top, and I Will Always Love You from The Bodyguard and My Heart Will Go On from Titanic are obvious examples of the second. Those are by no means the only ways hit soundtrack songs are found; they’re also often garnered from scenes where the main stars are performing for an audience, or culled from musicals ranging from Frozen to Saturday Night Fever. What is rare is for a hit soundtrack song to have its movie associations forgotten.
Nevertheless, that’s what happened with Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”. It was produced not for one of his regular albums but for the movie Despicable Me 2. While those who saw the entry in the children’s movie sequence might recall its presence there it achieved a prominence which far outstrips the footprint of the film, and that’s mostly due to oddities regarding its release dates.
The song was distributed as a single to some European markets a month before the movie debuted. It was an immediate hit for radio play, with callers requesting the song and deejays willfully obliging. The result was that by the time the movie was released, many viewers were convinced they were simply seeing the time-honored technique of incorporating a pre-existing hit into a film.
In the United States, Williams re-released the song as the first single from his second album, a few months after the movie hit theaters. His fans loved the song and popularized it, with many of them unaware that it was recycled music from a movie.
He even gave a hint of the provenance in the official video, with the inclusion of a minion. As the little yellow creatures were already pop culture icons by that point, the blatant clue passed by many of his listeners.
It’s not the only blatant issue to be missed by fans of the upbeat, though. Exactly twenty-five years prior, there was a similarly themed song which topped the Billboard charts. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was a number one hit for Bobby McFarrin. Like Williams’ song, it became fairly ubiquitous, finding its way not merely onto radio play but into commercials, television shows, and movies. While “Happy” is notable for the failure of many fans to recognize its provenance, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” held a different disctinction: the first a cappella song to hit the Billboard #1 position.
It’s obvious when someone listens attentively, but because the bass vocals and repetitive verbal hook are points of focus, casual listeners often miss the fact that there is no instrument used at any point during the song. Beyond the words, it’s all whistles, hums, finger snaps and the like.
Question of the night: What’s a lyrically positive song that you enjoy?