Simple Pleasures (1988)
Thoughts Before Listening
So this is a tricky review for me. When “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” came out, many, many years ago, I picked up the CD and wore it out. Well, I would have, if CDs could be worn out. I played it a lot. Pretty much every song on this album is well and truly embedded in my brain. All of this is my way of saying “This will not be an objective review – it will likely be coloured by nostalgia and experience in a big way.”
I’m pretty sure that Weh-Ming shares none of my history with the album, so I’m as curious as you to see his take on this.
All I’m going to say is that I think we all need a little Bobby McFerrin right now. Only, I think if he were going to record his hit today, it should be “Don’t Worry, Do Something”.
Of course, I’m only saying that because of the hit. I’ve never heard this whole album, nor any other song by Mr. McFerrin.
Other Songs of Note
The icing on the cake
“Simple Pleasures” – 8 points
Weh-Ming (5 points)
I like this song. It elevates a thing as simple as a morning routine – which can be the hardest part of the day – to show you it can be beautiful and pleasurable. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it makes me happy.
Scott (3 points)
As a father and a husband, this one hits. It’s a celebration of the little things, the routine. No fireworks, no car chases, just breakfast and a good read. It’s pretty great.
“Drive My Car” – 4 points
Weh-Ming (3 points)
You know how I feel about covers. And it stands. A thoroughly unique take on the song and I liked it a lot. The change to a cappella brings an intimacy to it. I would listen to this again.
Scott (1 points)
Great song. Great cover. I love his harmonies with himself in this one. These Lennon/McCartney fellows seem to be able to write a solid song.
What we would put on our personal mixtapes
“Come to Me“
Scott (5 points)
Nice crisp percussion. Imaging is particularly impressive in this one. Baritone Bobby is set up in the left channel, while falsetto Bobby is trilling over in the right channel. There are a few other Bobbies singing away in quite an ensemble.
A religious song, but inoffensive and inviting for everyone (which I think should be the point of religion, yes?). The message and the medium are very much in sync. Not my usual cup of tea, but well done and easy to listen to.
Scott (4 points)
LI love the propulsive feel of this one and the vocal sounds that I am woefully unequipped to describe. Do I really like a cappella jazz? I’m afraid I might.
I’ve felt this way – when there’s so much negativity in your life that you just need to get away from it as fast as you can. How he can take a feeling like that and still somehow give it a positive spin is pretty amazing. It wasn’t easy to not assign points to this track.
“Sunshine of Your Love“
Weh-Ming (4 points)
Man, there’s so much good stuff on this album. The audio on this one puts him a little further away, and it’s very reminiscent of the original. And his electric guitar distortion is outstanding.
Oh neat, a cover! This one lets him play around with all sorts of interesting vocal sounds, and allows him to stretch his voice in a traditional sense as well.
“All I Want“
Scott (2 points)
This is a fun song with a very simple lyrical run. It hits a great groove and sets the tone for the album nicely. I’m also partial to the dissonant harmonies that he sings with himself. They make for some very cool passages.
This is a little odd song, but overall I liked it. Is it odd that I can imagine it being performed live better than I can songs from other bands we’ve listened to?
Weh-Ming (2 points)
Another cover! I’m going to have some trouble handing out points for this album. There was some vocalization on this that I can’t believe wasn’t done with auto-tuning. It’s worth listening to for sure.
Another great cover. I honestly don’t know how he makes some of the sounds he makes on this one.
Weh-Ming (1 points)
So many covers! I love the original “Susie-Q”. Another totally unique take on it. I didn’t think about the grittiness of the original until I heard the smoothness of this version. There’s a place and room for both. And that’s not a harmonica? He has some skill.
Yet another solid cover. He also transforms into a human harmonica at one point, so there’s that.
Ultimately, neither of us awarded “Them Changes” points, which makes it the only one with no points. Frankly, I felt bad about that. On an album of great songs, it’s not as great – but that’s like hitting a buffet of delicious things and not having enough space on your plate for one last dish. Since it opened up a door for both of us we didn’t know was even there, I’ve made a category for it.
An “instrumental”. Yet another cover. It’s cool, but I don’t know if I like it as much as the rest of the album. I have to check out this original. Ok, the original is frickin’ amazing. How did this song escape me for so long?
I was not familiar with the source material for this song, so I had to listen to it. Holy cow. I started down the rabbit hole early Scott. I have an appreciation for this completely… non-instrumental? version of the song now. Nodding along to the beat on this.
As expected, I really enjoyed the album. Some songs took on new weight with a new perspective – “Simple Pleasures” in particular. I very much enjoy this album in its entirety – there are no weak songs, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome, coming in at under 35 minutes.
I didn’t really talk about it in any particular song’s notes, but there’s an openness to this recording that works very well with his presentation and his overall tone. You can hear everything that’s going on clearly at all times, and it is refreshing. The album, quite honestly, is refreshing – dare I say uplifting? There’s an unabashed joy to the whole endeavor that shines through. It’s a delight.
Oh man, I really needed this album. This is a treasure, one of the times that I am so happy we’re doing this project. I have only good things to say about this album.
A cappella is strange stuff. After listening to so many albums with heavy instrumentals, the chest thumping, clapping and humming is a little jarring. I leaned toward the covers more than the original songs like Scott did, but that should not be taken as a cue that I didn’t enjoy them. I very much did. I am not as musically rich as my friend, so hearing a new take on something I am already familiar with is just…easier to identify with.
True story: I was in a pretty bad mood when I started listening to it. Nothing serious, just a case of the grumpies because of general…stuff. One of those times where I know I have a bad attitude, and the fact that I know I have a bad attitude makes it worse because I don’t want to be reacting the way I am.
Finished the album and I felt…refreshed. Went back for an immediate second listen. Loved it a second time.
Friends, you should give this album a chance. Is it odd? Yes, but it always was. Really, just let yourself be open to the idea of it and listen. It’s worthwhile.
Yeah But What Else
Down the Rabbit Hole (Additional listening inspired by this week’s review.)
This week there’s not so much in the way of crazy exploration – it’s just the originals of the many covers on the album. There are several, and they are fantastic.
The Beatles – “Drive My Car” – The first track on the Beatles’ 1965 classic – Rubber Soul. You know, for a song released over 55 years ago, it holds up pretty well.
The Young Rascals – “Good Lovin’” – Coming straight out of New Jersey, this one was released the year after “Drive My Car”. Why is that important? I mean, it’s not really, but I just thought it was neat that the two covers came from two songs released so closely together.
Dale Hawkins – “Suzie-Q” – It’s rockabilly. It’s older than the first two covers, hailing from the amazing year 1957. So, fun story – Simple Pleasures came out more years before this review was written than “Suzie-Q” came out before Simple Pleasures was released. Crazy.
Buddy Miles – “Them Changes” – Possibly my least favourite cover on the album, this is unquestionably the coolest original tune for me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before, and when I “discover” a song like this, it always strikes me as ludicrous that I’m not familiar with it. It’s amazing. Those horns, that fuzz bass, that amazing groove being laid down – this is one I must have on vinyl.
Cream – “Sunshine Of Your Love” – Carrying on from the first two covers, we’ve got the 1967 classic by Cream. Come listen to Clapton when he was all, like, psychedelic, man.
All in all a pretty solid set of songs to cover – but seriously, if like me you’ve never heard “Them Changes”, go listen to it. It’s fantastic.
No parody was ever done of Bobby McFerrin’s hit. But if I had a piece of advice for people who think Weird Al is annoying and can’t stand him, it would be “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Life is short, find things that make you happy and embrace them.
I recommend you go Down the Rabbit Hole with Scott after you read this – especially for Buddy Miles “Them Changes”. It’s just beautiful. I’m listening to it now. Again.