Thursday, April 14, 2011

"Happy Together"

I am sure most of us have had those times when we get a specific song stuck in our head and it simply will not go away unless one listens to the song over and over again or yet another song gets stuck in our heads. This has been my situation this week. Ever since Sunday the song "Happy Together," originally performed by The Turtles, has been stuck in my head. It is not just one version either, but Filter's version as well as the original.

"Happy Together" was written by Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon. The two of them had founded the band called "The Magicians" in 1965. Unfortunately, the band's popularity would never extend beyond the New England/New York area, although they did release the single "Invitation to Cry" in late 1965. It would seem that if Messrs. Bonner and Gordon were to have any success, it would have to be as songwriters rather than as rock performers. Unfortunately, it seemed that they initially met with little success there as well. "Happy Together," now a pop rock standard, was rejected a dozen times before The Turtles accepted the song.

Like The Magicians, The Turtles were founded in 1965. Unlike The Magicians, The Turtles would prove to be one of the more successful American rock bands of the late Sixties. The band evolved from The Crossfires from the Planet Mars, a surf rock band founded by Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman in Westchester, California. Signed to White Whale Records, The Crossfires from Mars renamed themselves The Tyrtles, which soon became the more conventionally spelled "The Turtles." The band would have success fairly swiftly, achieving a hit with a cover of Bob Dylan's "It Ain't Me, Babe" in the late summer of 1965. The song went to #8 on the Billboard Hot 100.

By the time "Happy Together" was released in 1967, The Turtles had already had 3 top forty hits. As to "Happy Together," the song would prove to be the band's most popular. The group not only performed the song on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Ed Sullivan Show, and American Bandstand, but also shot a promotional film for the song. In the end "Happy Together" would prove to incredibly successful It knocked The Beatles' "Penny Lane" out of the #1 spot and remained there for three weeks.

I rather suspect that much of the reason for the song's success is that it is a rather bouncy song that sounds rather, well, happy. Of course, you will notice I said "sounds happy." Quite simply, "Happy Together" is not the simple song about love and togetherness people think it is. Instead "Happy Together" is a song in which an obviously obsessed suitor is trying to persuade the object of his affection that they are meant to be together. The fact that he has not yet won the girl of his dreams is demonstrated by the opening words, "Imagine me and you, I do." The fact that he is a bit obsessive is shown by the song's second line, "I think about you day night, it's only right..." "Happy Together" is not a song about togetherness so much as it is a song about an individual wanting to be together with someone. If it sounds happy, it is only because the song's narrator seems certain he cannot fail.

Regardless, "Happy Together" was not only the biggest hit The Turtles ever had, it also became a pop rock standard. In 1999 BMI estimated it was the forty fourth most performed song of the 20th Century, putting it the same league as The Beatles' "Michelle (#42)" and The Drifters' "On Broadway (#45)." There have been several cover versions, including versions by Simple Plan, Weezer, Johnny Panic, The Leningrad Cowboys, The Rosewood Thieves, The Dollyrots, Filter, and many others. Both the original version or one of the many covers have been used in numerous TV shows and movies, from Making Mr. Right to the 2009 remake of The Stepfather, from The Wonder Years to The Simpsons. It also also been used in innumerable adverts. For a song which was originally rejected a dozen times, it proved to be one of the biggest hits of the Sixties.

Now, for your enjoyment, here are a few clips of various versions of the song, starting with the promo film for original "Happy Together" by The Turtles.

Next up is The Dollyrots' cover version. While I have always liked The Dollyrots, I do not entirely like their cover of "Happy Together." I think they may have needed a different arrangement.

Next up is the version by English punk band Johnny Panic. Surprisingly it is more faithful to the original than most versions, although it is harder.

Finally, here is Filter's version from the remake of The Stepfather. This is my favourite version besides the original. While the arrangement is radically different, it does bring out the darker theme of obsession present in the original.

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