“Happy” by Surface (1987)

I was an unhappy kid in the spring of 1987. I’m not sure if that unhappiness played into how much I disliked “Happy”, the breakthrough hit for the band Surface, at that time. Maybe it wasn’t so much unhappiness as it was that the song seemed to be on Detroit radio every half hour (and probably in your city too; the song spent a couple of weeks at #2 on Billboard‘s R&B chart.) Over the years, though, “Happy” has grown on me quite a bit. And even though I’ve been battling my own brain over its status as a five-star jam, I’m (reasonably) comfortable giving it that distinction. Right now, anyway.

“Happy” has a love ballad vibe, but you can actually dance to it a little bit. The song is made for a light two-step, and has a bright, summery vibe. The (I think it’s electronic) flute sound that provides a secondary hook is a little twee (and might have been the thing that annoyed me most as a kid), but is now largely ignored in favor of the inventive drum machine programming and Bernard Jackson’s seductive purr. Hell, even the song’s bridge, which finds Jackson “answering the telephone”, is charming (if cheesy).

I’m gonna talk myself right out of this rating, let me stop.

Over the course of Surface’s three album career, they were always most effective when things were kept at a mid-tempo simmer. “Happy” is easily my favorite song of theirs. Things got more successful, but qualitatively worse as the tempo slowed (as evidenced by their two biggest pop hits, 1989’s “Shower Me With Your Love” and 1991’s God-awful “The First Time”).

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