Oh Happy Day (1952 song)
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Oh Happy Day (not to be confused with the gospel hit of the same name) was known as the "people's hit" since it became a national United States hit song as well as an international hit without any initial support from the music industry. The song reached US #3 in Cashbox and #4 & #3 in Billboard's two national charts, respectively), United Kingdom #4, and Australia singles charts #1. Time Magazine called it the "Mystery Hit" and described it as the "rarest kind of hit, unplanned and unplugged." It was first released on record by Don Howard in early November 1952. Within two months, Don Howard's Oh Happy Day was still going up the charts, when two other versions of the same song by Lawrence Welk and The Four Knights, respectively, also went up the US hit charts, Lawrence Welk's version reaching #5 (Billboard US national charts) and the Four Knights' version reaching #8 (Billboard US national charts).
Oh Happy Day by Don Howard only reached #4 on The Billboard Chart. It did reach #3 on The Cashbox Chart. The Billboard confusion arises from the fact that Billboard printed two charts. One ranking for individual artist recordings of a song and one for combined sales of a song by all of the recorded versions. The #3 ranking for "Oh Happy Day" in Billboard came from the Billboard "Honor Roll of Hits" listing. That ranking included all version of "Oh Happy Day" and not just the Don Howard version. The #4 ranking in Billboard came from the chart listing "The Best Sellers In Stores" and only included sales of the Don Howard version.
Oh Happy Day was one of the first pop hits whose momentum was driven by the high school teen set. Described as a "garage hit," before the song was recorded, Don Howard Kaplow sang it accompanied by his guitar before his classmates at Cleveland Heights High School, in Cleveland, Ohio. At a Saturday high school dance, the boys and girls called 13 times for Oh Happy Day. This convinced Koplow to put the song on wax. Once it was played on the air, teenage fans besieged the disc jockey, Phil McLean of radio station WERE with requests that kept him spinning the song all week. Calls began coming in from nearby cities, and it was decided the record should go to market. A contract was signed in early November 1952 and Oh Happy Day went on sale. Upon release by a brand new record company (Triple A), 21,000 copies quickly sold around Cleveland. Then the record was leased to another label (Essex) for national distribution. By February 1953, it was pushing the half-million mark.
Time Magazine reported in 1953 that Oh Happy Day had a "folklike origin: Donnie heard it sung by an Ohio State girlfriend, who had picked it up on the campus. Donnie worked it out on his guitar, changed it a bit, wrote some lyrics, sang it at parties and prudently got it copyrighted.." Six weeks later, while Oh Happy Day was still on the pop charts, the Washington Post reported that Nancy Binns Reed, a 28 year old housewife, had filed a lawsuit to prove that she wrote the song. Represented by Lee Eastman (father of Linda McCartney), a New York copyright and show business attorney, Mrs. Reed obtained affidavits from persons who had heard her singing the song when serving as a counselor at various camps and when she attended the University of California in the 1940s. She stated that many campers and high school and college friends had learned the song. The lawsuit resulted in an out of court cash settlement along with an agreement that Mrs. Reed and Mr. Kaplow share equal credit for the song's words and music.Music Views magazine reported in its June 1953 edition that Kaplow's girlfriend had graduated from a girl's camp, where Ms. Reed had served as a counselor.
Other performers released recorded versions of Oh Happy Day following the initial success by Don Howard. The January 10, 1953 edition of Billboard cited Lawrence Welk's version (Coral) as a likely upcoming hit, and noted in its January 17, 1953 edition that the versions by Four Knights (Capitol) and Dick Todd (Decca) were also likely upcoming hits. Other versions released by January 1953 in the US were those by J. Johnson (V), Mickey Baker (Savoy) and Ken Griffin (Columbia). In the Billboard Territorial Best Sellers (Popular) charts for the 15 top markets in the US, Don Howard's version had the greatest success, a #1 ranking in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans and #2 rankings in Pittsburgh and St. Louis. The Four Knights achieved a #1 ranking in Seattle and a #2 ranking in Atlanta. Lawrence Welk, in turn, achieved a #2 ranking in the Los Angeles and Denver markets. Finally, during the same time period that various versions of Oh Happy Day were on the national US hit chart, Dick Todd's version charted at #3 in New Orleans.
Oh Happy Day is the only song that charted three different versions of the song in the top ten at the same time during calendar year 1953. This unprecedented achievement was otherwise unmatched for other years as well. One million records are estimated to have been sold of Oh Happy Day by June 1953.
Legacy and Influence
In terms of legacy and influence, Oh Happy Day has been performed by numerous artists of various persuasions and interests. Folk versions (accompaniment by acoustic guitar only) were performed by Don Howard, Mickey Baker, Dolph Dixon and Elvis Presley. Don Howard's version has been released on a recent CD compilation entitled "Songs That Inspired The King" in reference to Elvis Presley. Elvis is known to have performed Oh Happy Day during the dress rehearsal for his 1968 Comeback Show and at an August 5, 1976 concert at the Sahara in Las Vegas. Elvis described the chord arrangement on Oh Happy Day as representative of early rock and roll, stating Oh Happy Day was similar to the songs Blue Moon and Young Love in this regard. See Elvis's voice over on the CD From Burbank to Vegas, recorded at the Burbank Studios, Hollywood, where the 1968 dress rehearsal for the 1968 Comeback Show took place. The arrangement of Lawrence Welk's Oh Happy Day has also been described as early rock and roll. A more traditional big band 1940s sound is heard in the rendition by Geraldo and His Orchestra (UK). Other versions demonstrate a jazz orientation or influence including those by Jimmy Giuffre, Dick Erickson and Ron Levin and Milt Levitt Orchestra. Other international versions were performed by the Johnston Brothers (#4 in the UK); Pilgrim With Rhythm Quartette (UK), Don Cameron (UK), Dave Carey (UK), Leo Heppe u.d. Continentals & Lutz Alberecht u.s. Orchester (Germany and sung in German); Mieke Telkamp (Germany) and Dick Todd (Canada). The Four Knights rendition has been described as early doo-wop rock and roll and several more explicitly doo-wop versions followed in the 1950s and 1960s by the Singing Belles, the Skylites, Dion, Rick Martell & the Angels, the Five Satins, and Stephanie & the Gothics. Dion's Oh Happy Day recorded in 1963 has been described as a stand out doo-wop recording on his "Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings” album. Other artists that have recorded Oh Happy Day include Tab Hunter, the Four Lads, Homer & Jethro, Kamahl, Bill Buchanan, the Honey Dreamers and Don McPherson and the Hy-powers. Homer & Jethro's "Unhappy Day", a parody of Oh Happy Day, stays faithful to the melody and brings forth a chuckle.
Not only did the teen set play a pervasive influence in making Oh Happy Day a national and international hit, the song was heavily performed by local artists throughout the US. In 1953 it was performed at minstrel shows, various high school assemblies, homecoming festivities, music programs in farming communities, and at talent shows.
The song was used in 2011 in a British advertisement for Cushelle.
While different covers of Oh Happy Day phrased the lyrics somewhat differently, the lyrics of the first verse typically started as follows:
The sun is shining, oh, happy day; No more troubles and no skies are gray; Ever since you said those words to me; Oo-Doo, doo-doo-doo-doo; You said you loved me, I know it's true; My life's complete, dear, for now I have you; Oh, happy day, oo-oh lucky me; Oo-Doo, doo-doo-doo-doo.
- "Mystery Hit -". TIME. February 9, 1953. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
- Richard N. Smith (February 19, 1953). "No One Likes 'Happy Day' Except Public". Galveston Daily News. Retrieved 2008-10-11.
- "D.C. Woman Proves Hit Song Is Hers". The Washington Post. March 26, 1953. Retrieved 2008-10-09.
- Downbeat, April 22, 1953, Vol. 20, No. 8
- "Miss Reed's Tune," Music Views, June 1953
- Territorial Best Sellers (Popular) charts, Billboard, December 13, 1952 through February 14, 1953 editions
- Music Views, June 1953 edition
- Reno Evening Gazette, 4 April 1953
- Mexia Daily News, 12 December 1954
- Nevada State Journal, 31 January 1953
- The Daily Register, Harrisburg, IL, 10 October 1953
- the Albert Lea Tribune, 14 March 1953
- Oakland Tribune, 4 April 1953
- Ada Evening News, Ada, Okla, 10 March 1953