We all have them, tucked away in our memory bank. The songs that make us smile, often many decades after we first heard them. In many cases, we heard them when we were growing up. They were blaring from the car radio, or our older sibling’s transistor radio, hidden and tucked under the pillow. We didn’t have a care in the world. We had our health, our cherished family members were alive, and we did everything together. We sang during family road trips, or living room dance sessions. Sometimes we didn’t even know the words, and we definitely didn’t know the meanings. It didn’t matter.
Later, we heard a song when we fell in love. There was a different song when we broke up. Those songs, both happy and sad, still take us back to those days. We associate a face, or a place, from the moment we hear the first note.
Considering our recent collective state of mind, which hasn’t been particularly jubilant, I asked some listeners of my weekend radio show (VinylExpressRadio.com) to talk about the songs that make them smile.
To my surprise, the most-mentioned song was not a hit when it was released. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” didn’t even crack the Hot 100 in 1968. The record company hated it, having hoped the famed trumpeter-turned-singer would record another “Hello Dolly” type of song.
Twenty years later, the song was featured in the Robin Williams movie, “Good Morning Vietnam,” and this time it took off. Unfortunately, Armstrong had long since passed away, but his voice, and the song’s message still make people smile today.
My friend Kay Parish wrote, “It’s a reminder that creation is beautiful, and interacting with people is invigorating. They feed the soul.” Kelly Cotton agreed, calling it “a song that reminds us to slow down, smile, and savor life.”
Pam Holloway lost her husband in 2015, but one song still makes her smile: “My Girl” by the Temptations. She said, “Every time we heard this in our 43 years of marriage, we stopped what we were doing, and started dancing. Even now, when I hear it, I smile real big, and I remember our dances, anywhere, and everywhere.” No wonder. Gentlemen, if you tell a lady that she’s your sunshine on a cloudy day, you’ve hit a home run.
Clint Powell loves to hear CCR sing “Down on the Corner,” about the fictional band “Willy and the Poor Boys.” He said, “My parents played that around the house, and they would dance to it while they worked. Now I do that with my kids, and they love it too.”
Beth Green’s smile song is Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park.” She said, “My college roommate was Italian. We would lay around and sing along with the radio. Whenever that song came on, we would sing her favorite line “...singing Italian songs...” at the top of our lungs! Every time I hear it, I can’t help but smile. It was such a happy times.” And how can you not smile while visualizing, “people dancing, people laughing, and a man selling ice cream?”
Sue Roman fondly recalls “A Beautiful Morning” by The Rascals. “It came out when I was 9, growing up in Florida,” she said. “We would listen to it while looking out over the lake, and it was indeed a beautiful morning. The lyrics are carefree, and the instrumentation, harmonies, and melody are magical. It will always make me smile.”
One of the most-played songs of all time brings a smile to the face of Joanie Sompayrac. She loudly sings along to “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. She said, “It makes me happy because she sang it with such power. I think many of us relate to that song at multiple stages of our lives, and I always feel more empowered when I hear it.” And who hasn’t spelled out R-E-S-P-E-C-T at full volume, with the windows down on a summer day?
Others mentioned songs that have basically become anthems since the 1960s, encouraging all of us to join in. You don’t have to be a good singer to enjoy a true smile song. For instance, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, “Happy Together” by the Turtles, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver, “Old Time Rock and Roll” by Bob Seger, and “Joy to the World” by Three Dog Night have been known to induce smiles from people ranging in age from 2 to 102.
Why did I write this column? Because if you’re like me, you’re overwhelmed by the word “pandemic” in every other news story. If thinking about a wine-drinking bullfrog named Jeremiah makes you smile, crank it up and sing along. What are your happy songs? I’d love to know.