Happy Music: Unscientifically Proven

Recently, a study was published in the Frontiers of Human Neuroscience that used functional MRI to determine how music impacted the emotional centers of the brain for the purpose of music therapy. You can read a summary of the research here or, for the more scientifically minded, here is a link to the actual research. In the study, they used Happy, Sad, and Fearful music, and talk about strategies that people use music to help them with their emotions. I know that I do this all the time.

I’ve got a happy playlist to pick me up on a bad day. So I figured I’d share ten of my favorite happy songs that aren’t Pharrell’s “Happy.” My list skews towards my musical interests, so feel free to add your happiness hits in the comments!

  1. “Ode to Joy” 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.I had the great joy of singing this in high school with the National Symphony Orchestra and a cacophony of singers. To be in the midst of hundreds of musicians in a state of such sonic exuberance is unequalled. 
  2. Rodeo, 4th movement, Aaron Copeland“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” But before that, it was the fourth movement of a Martha Graham choreographed ballet. The orchestra dances around it’s western themes, and Copeland is always a master orchestrator. Put it on, clear your living room floor, and gallop your imaginary horse all about. Guaranteed to make you smile.
  3. “Calico Train (remix)” by Steve MartinA little more mellow and restrained than our classical offerings, Steve Martin turns in a great performance with an amazing band. There’s something that feels so warm and nostalgic about this song, like being wrapped in a blanket, sitting by the fire with good friends, and maybe a beer and a banjo.
  4. Bobby McFerrin and YoYo Ma “Hush Little Baby”This album was one of those weird crossover collaborations, but it produced brilliant results. The joy of both musicians is palpable on this tune, and the interplay between them as McFerrin mimics the cello, and the cello gives it right back is fantastic. Bonus points for bringing back memories of the childhood rocking chair.
  5. Buddy Rich “Bugle Call Rag”I swear I don’t have an Americana fetish. This just happens to be one of the most jamming big band tunes. The band is ripping it out at over 250 beats per minute, the horn section is incredibly tight with a great blend, and a drum solo that can’t be beat.
  6. “Joy” by Georgia Mass ChoirWhether you are a believer or not, this song has an energy about it. In contrast to the “Bugle Call Rag,” it’s the slowest song on the list, but every word is an exclamation. I love the styling, too…the unified slides and bends that lift each note as it lifts your spirits.
  7. “Happy” by c2cThis song keeps the gospel revival going, but with secular lyrics. I’m guessing that this is the least known song on this list, and it’s unfortunate because the layering and texture of the samples is fantastic and infectious. This is one “Happy” you’ll get stuck in your head, and still be smiling.
  8. Robert Randolph and the Family Band “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That”Here’s a song with a message: Everyone is welcome at this party. Part of it’s success comes from the deep rhythmic pocket of the band, and the slick production with a heavy pounding bass line that rips through you, daring you to try to sit still.
  9. Koko Taylor “Wang Dang Doodle”This is another party song, and once again, everyone is welcome. Except this time, she’s calling out some of the darker corners of the earth…drug addicts and criminals of all sorts. When they talk about dirty blues, this is what they mean. But even better, the band sets up a great riff, and just keeps the groove going until you are lost in it. Add Koko Taylor’s powerful voice on top, and you’ll be wanting to hang out with all her seedy characters, too.
  10. “Tonight Tonight” by Hot Chelle Rae
    I must confess this as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Sometimes, you want a great work of art. Sometimes, you just want something to get the job done. There’s nothing particularly innovative or amazing about this. It just hits all the right notes.

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