Song of the Day: “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin

This week, I’ll be writing about some a cappella songs I like. I’m sorry this week doesn’t have a catchy tagline like “Get Pitch Slapped.”

On the one hand, it’s not hard to see how “Don’t Worry Be Happy” became an oddball #1 smash. Its signature “ooh-ooh” vocal riff is really delightful. And any track with an aphorism for a chorus has a pretty clear path to success.

On the other hand, it’s an a cappella reggae song. There’s not exactly a long list of precedents of those topping the charts. A bit baffling.

I also think the lyrics are really stupid. McFerrin spends most of his words describing awful situations, but then insisting that the listeners not worry even if they find themselves there. Wouldn’t revisiting these troubles just increase worry?

The rest of the lyrics are him mandating you follow his “don’t worry” instructions to the letter (“you might want to play it note for note”) without really describing how one can avoid worrying (except by calling him).

He doesn’t even say what will happen if YOU do worry. The most we get is an assurance that worry takes trouble and “make[s] it double.” (Great rhyme, Bobby.)

So, all in all, a fun song to hear about once every three years. Any more than that, and its stupidity and repetitiveness wear you down, fast.

If you do find yourself listening to it, here are a few phrases you can use to replace “don’t worry, be happy” when singing along to the refrain. Feel free to mix and match first clauses with various second clauses. If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments:

  • Snow flurry, slaphappy
  • Green curry, wet nappy
  • Eyes blurry, mousetrappy
  • Please hurry, kidnappy
  • Chauferry, speed trappy
  • Elf Hermey, backslappy
  • Feel-the-Bernie, shut-your-trappy
  • McFlurry, Bee Movie*

(*) I know “Bee Movie” doesn’t actually rhyme with “Be Happy” but I’ve still found myself singing it.

Two last tidbits about the song:

  • A popular urban myth is that Bobby McFerrin, depressed at his inability to chart another hit, lost all of his money to drugs and then killed himself. It’s a clever story, but, alas, not true.
  • You often see this song attributed to Bob Marley. I’m not sure if it’s an honest mistake or a subversive critique on white Americans thinking every reggae song is a “Bob Marley song.”
Click here for the full list

Click here for the full list

Dan S.

Dan is the editor of Earn This. He co-founded the site in 2009.

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