Monday, May 2, 2011

Oh Happy Day

We must all remember the Law of Unintended Consequences, and the triumphalism we see on the TV news from America is unattractive, but even so this seems like a good day to post a link to this clip of Edwin Hawkins (who wrote the song) with his sister Lynette Hawkins Stephens and the ever-amazing Edwin Hawkins Singers performing the joyous “Oh Happy Day” in 1987. Introduced by Paul Simon. When the choir comes in full-strength at 1:11 the sound is just thrilling.

 There’s an earlier performance here without the choir, but it is worth seeing as a reminder of how sexy gospel can be, not to mention funky.

And here – yes, I spoil you because you are worth it – is a performance of the song by Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples from the 1987 live album One Lord, One Baptism. There are frustratingly few shots from the actual concert, and Aretha had got a bit mannered by then, and prima donna assoluta, but still – what a voice.

An historical note: when I was a schoolboy in the 60s I owned a 45, aka single, of this song as performed by Hawkins and his choir. (For younger readers, a 45 was like a mini-LP, a circular bit of vinyl that had usually one song on one side and one on the other – and you had to buy it in a record shop. As in pay money for music. Yeah, the 60s were weird.) 

I also had 45s by the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Love, Frank Zappa, the Band, Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan, the Moody Blues, King Crimson (I am not making this up), Cream and Pink Floyd. Later, in the early 70s, there would be NZ singles by Split Ends (sic) and Brent Parlane, among others. 

What strikes me now is that these records were released in the hope that they might become hits – and radio was so eclectic in those days that you did hear music as diverse and uncommercial as this every day, so it wasn’t an unreasonable hope. I don’t know if the 60s was a golden age for music – I guess every generation thinks its music is the best – but it sure was a golden age for open-minded radio.

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