The Happiest Song in the World

Sadness and little children are a funny mix. Literally, I guess. You can’t spend a day with a toddler without cracking a few smiles, so even on a hard day, having a small comedian in the house means the black cloud sits alongside some sunbursts.

Or maybe it’s like a two-lane road, where you can switch from black to sunny with just the flick of an indicator (optional for some, apparently!) and a swift movement sideways. Or maybe your experience is that it’s just a black highway with some funny billboards along the way.

Anyway, as well as my 19-month-old trickster to lighten the days, there’s now also Paolo Nutini.

One of the little highlights of our time in the United Kingdom has been having Alex’s soundtracks in the car. She kindly put together ‘mix-tape’ cds for us in three categories: ‘adult’ songs her kids approve of; songs from kids’ movies she approves of; and an introduction to They Might Be Giants (which I’m hoping she’ll turn into a guest post for us – feel free to lobby accordingly in the comments!)

Alex has an extensive collection of music and taste that has considerable overlap with mine – but I don’t know half her stuff, so she’s a great resource for new sounds. One of my favourites on the first cd is this, a song which may just be the happiest in the world.

We are grieving a dear member of the family, here in Somerset. And, perhaps because I am used to the two-lane-road model of sadness and smiles, somehow it seems just fine to also have an implausibly cheery tune to keep us company along the lanes.

Paolo Nutini is, believe it or not, Scottish. He’s also thirty years younger than I thought, just from hearing his voice.


Below is a little live recording of Pencil Full of Lead. The official video is cleverly controversial and I reckon I appreciated the song better without it to begin with. The lyrics swing past pretty quickly, so here they are in case you want to read them first.

I got a sheet for my bed,
And a pillow for my head
I got a pencil full of lead,
And some water for my throat
I’ve got buttons for my coat; and sails on my boat
So much more than I needed before
I got money in the meter and a two bar heater
Now it’s getting hotter;
Oh it’s only getting sweeter

I got legs on my chairs and a head full of hair
Pot and a pan
And some shoes on my feet
I got a shelf full of books and most of my teeth
A few pairs of socks and a door with a lock
I got food in my belly and a license for my telly
And nothing’s going to bring me down

I got a nice guitar and tyres on my car
I got most of the means; and scripts for the scenes
I’m out and about, so I’m in with a shout
I got a fair bit of chat but better than that
Food in my belly and a license for my telly
And nothing’s going to bring me down
Nothing’s going to bring me down

But best of all (best of all)
I’ve got my baby
She’s mighty fine and says she’s all mine
And nothing’s going to bring me down
Best of all
I’ve got my baby
She’s mighty fine and says she’s all mine
And nothing’s going to bring me down
Not today, no, no

I think what appeals most about this relentlessly jaunty song, even at a time like this, is that the happiness of the character in the song is largely a matter of attitude. Having ‘a shelf full of books and most of my teeth’ isn’t usually a reason to sing a happy song, but it’s enough for this guy.

I can’t help but think of Paul, writing while in prison to the church at Philippi, saying he has learned to be content in all circumstances, and even joyful. The singer isn’t saying he’s happy because he’s found true love or won the lottery. He’s got ‘food in my belly and a license for my telly’ and that’s cause enough to be cheerful.

There’s something in that. Learning to be content. Celebrating little things to be happy about. But I’m not going to take it any further tonight. Life is way too complex for me to want to tell y’all to just choose to be happy, and I’d be a hypocrite too. But if life is hard at the moment, it may be that Paolo Nutini can give you three minutes of sunshine.

If you want a bit more (as I often do when obsessing about new music), there’s a very sweet interview with Graham Norton (surprising, I know) here – Paolo comes in about 4.30 and the clip ends with him performing Pencil Full of Lead on the show. As a bonus, the other guests on the sofa are David Mitchell, Robert Webb and Anna Paquin.

If you have a contender for the title of Happiest Song in the World, I’d love to hear what it is! If you put a link to a video in the comments it should even give us a screen right here.

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0 comments on “The Happiest Song in the World”

  1. Alex Reply

    So pleased to hear Paolo is making you smile. He always strikes me as being a thoroughly nice man (though I do find myself urging him to stand up straight when I watch him sing!)

  2. Mike Crudge Reply

    My happiest song in the world is Isaac Hayes’ tune for the movie Shaft. It’s the most played song in my iTunes library: 181 times, at 4.37 minutes, this means I have listened to this song for just over 13 hours of my life. The lyrics are meaningless, it’s the vibe of the song that makes me feel good. I often find myself walking down the street with this as the soundtrack playing in my head – without any external assistance. This is also proof good things happened before I was born:

      • Mike Crudge Reply

        Last night I was talking about this over dinner which included a 7-year old (at the table not on the plate). I asked her if she could guess what my favourite song was. She replied “gangnam style”!

  3. robyninnz Reply

    This song always makes me happy even though the lyrics are pretty suspect (I didn’t realise this until I tried to sing it on singstar a few years ago):

    I love it when it comes on when I’m not expecting it; when I’m shopping or in a cafe etc.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Thanks, Robyn! A night dancing at Barney’s (studentish bar in Welli) was never complete without this song. Like you, I have no idea what the lyrics are, though I can yell along to the chorus getting half of them right ๐Ÿ™‚

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Oh, I’m so pleased! I was thinking of you and yours and me and mine as I wrote them and rewrote them many times. Very glad to have hit it.

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