Rolling Stones songs: Happy
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
Never got a flash out of cocktails/ When I got some flesh off the bone…
Written by: Jagger/Richard
Recorded: Rolling Stones Mobile, Nellcote, France, Jun.-Nov. 1971; Sunset Sound Studios, Los Angeles, USA, Dec. 1971-March 1972; RCA Studios, Los Angeles, USA, March 1972
Guest musicians: Nicky Hopkins (piano), Jim Price (trumpet), Bobby Keys (percussion), Jimmy Miller (drums)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
This was the first Stones song to chart with Keith Richards singing lead.
They say that just the act of smiling can make you feel better. Well, singing “Happy” could also make you happy. Keith Richards explained: “That’s a strange song, because if you play it you actually become happy, even in the worst of circumstances. It has a little magical bounce about it. I wrote it one afternoon when we were cutting Exile on Main St. in France and the studio was in my basement. And Bobby Keys was with me and they got this lick going. So we went down and I recorded it with just guitar and Bobby Keys on baritone saxophone…
…While we were doing that, Jimmy Miller, who was our producer at the time, came in. And he was a very good drummer as well. So we said, well let’s put down a dub, we’ll just sort of sketch it out and play it later. But it’s another one of those things that ended up being on the record. It was just one of those moments that you get that are very happy. And I can play it now and it gives you a lift. I don’t know why except for maybe the word.”
This was recorded at Richard’s villa in France when The Stones left England to avoid paying taxes. They used the basement as a recording studio, but had a hard time getting everyone together at once because of the drug abuse and party atmosphere. The only people to play on this were Keith (guitar, bass, vocals), producer Jimmy Miller (drums), and horn player Bobby Keys (percussion). Horns were dubbed in later.
Keith sang this at concerts, giving Mick Jagger a chance to rest his voice and Richards a chance to be in the spotlight.
In the chorus Keith sings, “I need a love to keep me Happy.” This is a play on “Anita’s love will keep me Happy,” referring to his girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg.
Keith Richards gave the backstory on writing this song in his 2010 autobiography, Life: “It just came, tripping off the tongue, then and there. When you’re writing this s–t, you’ve got your face in front of the microphone, spit it out… It was just alliteration, trying to set up a story. There has to be some thin plot line, although in a lot of my songs you’d be very hard-pressed to find it. But here, you’re broke and it’s evening. And you want to go out, but you ain’t got s–t…
…I’m busted before I start. I need a love to keep me happy, because if it’s real love it will be free! Don’t have to pay for it. I need a love to keep me happy because I’ve spent the f–king money and I have none left, and it’s nighttime and I’m looking to have a good time, but I ain’t got s–t.”
Under certain circumstances, this can make a great wedding song. When Lucinda Williams got married on stage in 2009, she played it with her new husband after they exchanged vows.
Nils Lofgren lets rip with a loose cover version on his 1977 album I Came to Dance. Lofgren had to alter the words as he was unsure what were the correct ones. Explained Niles, “Jagger said that he didn’t mind… we had spent a long time trying to decipher the lyric.”
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
In Life, Keith Richards recalls the birth of one of his best songs, “Happy”:
“It just came, tripping off the tongue, then and there. When you’re writing
this shit, you’ve got to put your face in front of the microphone, spit it out.”
It may be that the Stones guitarist found inspiration in his own life: I never
kept a dollar past sunset/It always burned a hole in my pants. “Happy” is a
hymn to the pleasure of the here and now, with a motto that recurs time and
again with the Stones: only love can make you happy, certainly not society
cocktail parties or private jets. “Happy” is also an outburst of joy from a
Keith who had just learned that he was to become a father. Mick Jones, the
former singer-guitarist with the Clash, maintains that “Happy stills sounds
fucking amazing, especially when all the brass comes in,” adding that it is
“pure Keef” and that he learned to play everything Richards ever did.
“Happy” is, indeed, one hundred percent Keith Richards, words and music
alike. The riff alone symbolizes all the energy and magic of rock ’n’ roll.
Richards: “‘Rocks Off,’ ‘Happy,’ ‘Ventilator Blues,’ ‘Tumbling Dice,’ ‘All
Down the Line’—that’s five-string, open tuning to the max. I was starting
to really fix my trademark; I wrote all that stuff within a few days.” An
approach the Stones guitarist summed up succinctly as follows: “Five
strings, two notes, two fingers, and one asshole.”
“Happy” was the A-side of the second single to be taken from Exile on
Main St. (with “All Down the Line” as the B-side). It peaked at number 22
on the Billboard chart on August 19, 1972.
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