Original Artist: The Rolling Stones
Original Album: Exile on Main St (1972)
“Happy,” the only song to feature Keith on lead vocals on Exile on Main St (and one of only a handful of Keith tunes in the entire Stones catalog), is viewed by many as the quintessential Keith Richards song. Indeed, even the recording of the song is quintessential Keith. During the recording of Exile, Stones bassist Bill Wyman became increasingly fed up with the Mick and Keith’s working schedule, which could be most charitably described as irregular, and decided to take an impromptu vacation. That afternoon, Keith reportedly walked into basement at Nellcôte, his rented villa in the south of France where Exile was recorded, (early no less) and recorded what would become “Happy.” As Keith would later put it, the song “just popped out.” What was the source of this inspiration? Reportedly, Keith had learned earlier in the day that his then girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, was pregnant (though Keith would, years later, claim in interviews that he was just excited at being early for once to the recording session).
At its heart, “Happy” is a song about the ability of love to conquer all. Despite the narrator’s flaws and idiosyncrasies, all he really needs is a “love to keep [him] happy.” Of course those flaws and idiosyncrasies are pure Keith Richards. With lines such as, “Always took candy from strangers / Didn't wanna get me no trade” and “Never got a flash out of cocktails / When I get some flesh off the bone,” “Happy” seems to sum up the public persona of Keith Richards in a mere twelve lines (with a little help from a pretty killer guitar riff).
Phish’s version of “Happy” (performed as part of their musical costume on 10/31/09) featured Fish on lead vocals, a role he filled admirably, and a brief, but spirited, jam that benefitted from the backup singers and horn section. Fans wanting to hear a live version of “Happy” by the original artists are encouraged to google the term, “Brussels Affair,” for a peek at the Stones at the height of their powers.