As the saying goes: if you smile the whole world smiles with you. A genuine, infectious smile and/or laughter can make a bad date turn good, seal a business deal and make friends wherever you go. So, it was my job this week to put a smile on everyone’s face with an absolute abundance of songs about SMILING AND LAUGHING. What better way to open the show than with David Bowie’s attempt at a novelty song – THE LAUGHING GNOME – released as a single in 1967. I’m not sure that he was laughing all the way to the bank with that release, but hey, I got a kick out of it.
Now I’ve discovered that not all songs about smiling and laughing are cheerful at all, which kind of threw me as I was hoping to enjoy a fully upbeat show this week. But those renegade R&B singers, in particular, are prone to turning any song into a lover’s lament, but what can you do! It was up to Sly & The Family Stone to deliver a very funky pop tune with YOU CAUGHT ME SMILIN’ to get the show moving in the right direction.
Winners of the prize for silliest band name ever has to be The The. Luckily, they are a very good band. We played what was probably their most successful track, UNCERTAIN SMILE, from the 1983 Soul Mining album. Jools Holland, in his role as session muso, played piano on the original recording. Here they are, without Jools, unfortunately, performing live.
It was inevitable that the 60’s soul singers would bring the sad clown into the mix. Mary Wells sang about her LAUGHING BOY and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles reminded us of the paradox that is the TEARS OF A CLOWN, written, by the way, by Stevie Wonder. We needed to jump a couple of generations to entertain both sides of the love coin. Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas is madly in love with a particular girl, particularly WHEN SHE SMILES but that little vixen Lily Allen finds a bit of revenge on an ex-lover is all she needs to make her SMILE. The video made me smile, I know that much. Take a look:
Next it was Nat King Cole with IF YOU CAN’T SMILE AND SAY YES, recorded in 1946, which explains all the references to nylons and the like. The beautiful voice of Alison Krauss followed with her cover of WHEN YOU SAY NOTHING AT ALL. Krauss was already a veteran bluegrass fidler and vocalist at age 23 when the recording won the 1995 CMA award for “Single of the Year”. Take a look:
More R&B songs followed and, as expected, smiling was a struggle: The Undisputed Truth were Motown hitmaker Norman Whitfield’s favourite band and their track, SMILING FACES SOMETIMES,repossessed from the Temptations, was their only chart success. Wendy Rene’s song AFTER LAUGHTER (Comes Tears) was recorded on the Stax label in 1964. In 1967 Wendy was scheduled to fly with Otis Redding to what would have been her last live performance. She changed her mind at the last minute, wanting to stay home with her family. The plane crashed and Redding and six others perished. Thankfully Wendy is alive and well and resides today in Tennessee where she runs a publishing company.
Thank goodness for reggae! Max Romeo and The Upsetters (great name) cheered us up with SMILE OUT A STYLE. And you can always rely on the Jazz singers for inspiration. Astrud Gilberto does a stunning version of THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE that had to be included (Thanks Quentin for the suggestion).
I also love Regina Spektor and her song that questions God’s sense of humour – LAUGHING WITH – is beautiful. It’s from her latest album ‘Far’. Here’s the official clip:
Even more sad songs about smiling and laughing: Teddy Pendergrass’ has a problem with his ego. He reckons that THE WHOLE TOWN IS LAUGHING AT ME; Dusty Springfield is pining for JUST ONE SMILE and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, milking the sad clown story for all its worth, gave us the much covered THE TRACKS OF MY TEARS. Happily, Bowling For Soup have got a completely different outlook on life. As their song SHUT UP AND SMILE states, all they need is love and beer.
Happy to include three musical icons: Van Morrison with JACKIE WILSON SAID, Bob Dylan with IT TAKES A LOT TO LAUGH, IT TAKES A TRAIN TO CRY and Neil Young with THE OLD LAUGHING LADY.
We closed the show with Michael Jackson’s rendition of the classic ballad, SMILE. The song was originally used as an instrumental theme in the soundtrack for the 1936 film Modern Times and was written by comic genius Charlie Chaplin. Here’s a great video clip of Chaplin’s work with MJ singing SMILE over. Two of the best all-round entertainers the world has known:
Thanks to Quentin, Kira & Des for their help with the playlist this week. Remember, whatever happens: keep on smiling!
Here’s the complete playlist:
The Laughing Gnome – David Bowie
You Caught Me Smiling – Sly & The Family Stone
Uncertain Smile – The The
Laughing Boy – Mary Wells
The Tears Of A Clown – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
When She Smiles – Matchbox 20
Smile – Lily Allen
If You Can’t Smile and Say Yes – Nat King Cole
The Smile On Your Face – Allison Krauss
We Laugh Indoors – Death Cab For Cutie
Smile Out A Style – Max Romeo & The Upsetters
After Laughter (Comes Tears) – Wendy Rene
Smiling Faces Sometimes – The Undisputed Truth
Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) – Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
The Shadow Of Your Smile – Astrud Gilberto
Sara Smile – Hall & Oates
Laughing With – Regina Spektor
The Whole Town Is Laughing At Me – Teddy Pendergrass
The Tracks Of My Tears – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Just One Smile – Dusty Springfield
Shut Up and Smile – Bowling for Soup
Die Laughing – Therapy?
The Old Laughing Lady – Neil Young
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry – Bob Dylan
Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile) – Van Morrison
Fooled By A Smile – Swing Out Sister
Smile Like You Mean It – The Killers
Smile At Me – Rocksteady
Smile – Michael Jackson