I’m still working on compiling some lists of top songs and videos to use as random fodder for the Monday Music Video, and I was a bit stuck on inspiration for today. (This is probably something I’ll get better at as time goes on.) So I thought I’d take a page from radio stations, and see what was important in “this day in music history”. As it turns out, March 11 was apparently a pretty quiet day all around. Except that in 1950, a certain sound-effect-making singer was born: Bobby McFerrin. I apologize in advance to all of you who are going to get this stuck in your heads all day, especially those who don’t want it there. But you know, there’s probably a saying that applies to that.
The video is well aware of how goofy the song is, and like the song demands, it doesn’t worry about it. Besides McFerrin himself mugging for the camera, it also features clowning around from Robin Williams and Bill Irwin, an actual circus clown. It’s mostly cheerful, though there’s a certain dark irony about the Wall Street executive contemplating suicide before being lifted up.
As for the song itself, it’s now viewed as one of the kitschiest one-hit wonders to come out of the 1980s… but it must be remembered that it was a hit. At the 1989 Grammy Awards, it took home Song of the Year, Record of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. While most of us probably limit our exposure to the song to about once a decade now, when it was released, it was unquestionably a success. It was the first a capella song to reach #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 — yes, a capella. Every sound effect you hear in the song is made through McFerrin’s own vocalizations. That’s also not his natural accent.
And when it comes to Bobby McFerrin being a one-hit wonder, it’s worth noting that this was by his own choice. He never even attempted a follow-up, saying that it was a one-off thing he did for fun. It’s a little hard to imagine someone turning out a Grammy-winning hit and then saying “That’s cool and all, but I’m done.” Yet that’s what he did.
But that’s not to say he hasn’t been involved in music since. Just a year later, he composed the music for a short film titled Knick Knack — which you might recognize as being the fourth short film by a little studio called Pixar. The tongue-in-cheek “blah blah blah” lyrics at the end are McFerrin. And he continues to perform as a conductor for symphony orchestras. He has simply chosen not to return to the pop vocals that made him (in)famous.
We tend to think of one-hit wonders as having sad little lives of despair after the novelty wears off. But it sounds as if McFerrin’s not worrying.