Now we come to a song that is so politically incorrect that you have to laugh. I suspect that if there was a statue built to commemorate this song, that someone would have demanded that it be taken down. Jimmy Soul sings about marrying an ugly woman because they cause the man the least trouble (and presumably, they can cook.) A song with these lyrics would never be released today.
But, oh isn’t it fun. The song is just infectious. You can’t help but tap your foot and nod your head in time with the music. Believe it or not, this song dates back to 1934 when it was recorded by the Trinidadian Calypsonian singer Roaring Lion. Roaring Lion, whose real name was Rafael de Leon, was a composer in the early Thirties and wrote many Calypso numbers, the most famous of which was “Mary Ann,” which was adapted and sung the group The Hilltoppers as “Marianne” (#3) in 1957. His other most famous work was “Ugly Woman” which was used as the basis of “If You Want To Be Happy.” A trio of songwriters, Joseph Royster, Carmella Guida and Frank Guida, produced what we hear today as “If You Want To Be Happy.” Toward the end of the song, we hear a dialog between Jimmy and another man who is complaining that Jimmy’s wife if “ugleeee.” Jimmy says that’s OK, she sure can cook. This dialog is reminiscent of the Bo Diddley song “Hey Man.”
Jimmy Soul was born James Louis McCleese in 1942 in Weldon, North Carolina (some sources say he was born in Harlem, New York City and then his family moved to North Carolina.) He became a preacher at the unusual age of seven. As a preacher, he sang with several gospel groups until he was noticed by Frank Guida and Guida asked him to sing a new song he and his friends had just written. Guida was also behind another great singing group of the Sixties, Gary U.S. Bonds (remember “Quarter to Three?”) Guida also changed Jimmy’s last name to Soul.
Jimmy Soul’s first single was “Twistin’ Matilda” which reached number 22. Then Guida gave him “If You Want To Be Happy” and Jimmy was on top. Unfortunately, as with so many performers, this would be the last time he was on top. In fact, nothing he did after that charted. Jimmy decided to give up show business and joined the Army. Later, in the Eighties, he got involved with drugs and was sentenced to from 4 to 9 years in prison for the sale of a controlled substance. Two years later, in 1988, Jimmy died of a, presumably, drug induced heart attack. He was 45 years old.
“If You Want To Be Happy” entered the pop chart on March 20, 1963 and spent two weeks at number one. No matter how politically incorrect the song is, it makes me smile when I listen to it.