The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

12 October 2003

Happy together

Yes, I mean the Turtles recording, a massive Sixties hit (White Whale 244, 1967). It seemed perfectly obvious to me right off the bat that this wasn't your basic drippy love song, and a mere thirty-five years after the fact, I got around to blogging about it, thusly:

That the Turtles, one of our most prodigiously brilliant (if consistently inconsistent) bands, should score their only Number One (for three weeks!) with this piece of doggerel in the window, demonstrates as clearly as the Book of Job that God has a warped sense of humor.

And yet there is something besides bubblegum and "ba-ba-ba-ba" that brings us back, and it's given away right in the opening verse. "Imagine me and you. I do." That's precisely what he's doing — imagining — because he knows he would never, ever have the nerve to say these things out loud, let alone to the object of his forlorn affections. And he'd go on imagining it all the way through the fade, except that the Real World has this tendency to intrude on even the most intense of dreams. "So happy together," he's repeating to infinity and beyond, and then something (or, I'd be willing to bet, someone) interrupts, and caught with his defenses down, he has no choice but to fall back on conversational cliché: "How is the weather?" Everybody assumes this is a throwaway line, but it's the key to the whole song. And by the time he's regained enough composure to drift back into dreamland, the background singers and the brass have taken over, and the fantasy grinds to a cold, cold halt.

Well, okay, maybe the Turtles didn't quite sound like they meant it that way. And I expect someone will read this and scream "Projection!" But composers Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon were eminently capable of hiding subtext like this in the most innocent of corners (cf. "She's My Girl"), and absent any disagreement from either The Phlorescent Leech or Eddie, this is my interpretation and I'm sticking with it.

Why bring this up again? Because Alan Gordon is now on a mailing list to which I subscribe, and some kind soul beat me to the question of "What is this song really about?" And Mr Gordon responded with basically the same thing I told you in that second quoted paragraph, minus the snarkiness.

As coworkers will confirm, I derive way too much glee from vindication.

Posted at 9:49 AM to Tongue and Groove

A few years back, a friend pointed out how the unusual chord progression in the song's chorus can also be found in Debussy's "La Mer". Considering how much homage there is to DeBussy out there, I guess it shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Unfortunately, whenever I hear "Happy Together" now, that part sticks out like a sore thumb, as I just end up hearing DeBussy.

Posted by: Jeff at 11:32 AM on 12 October 2003

Tin Pan Alley and its successors have been filching stuff from the classical vaults for years; some people react to it more strongly than others. It usually doesn't bother me much, though if it's a song of which I'm not particularly fond — say, Eric Carmen's "All By Myself", which barely disguises its Rachmaninoff origins — it gives me one more thing to complain about.

Posted by: CGHill at 12:59 PM on 12 October 2003