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*3.26-HAPPY JACK (The Who)

The Who

LISTEN

[Intro]

Happy Jack wasn't old, but he was a man.
He lived in the sand at the Isle of Man.
The kids would all sing, he would take the wrong key.
So they rode on his head on their furry donkey.

        The kids couldn't hurt Jack;
        They tried tried tried.
        They dropped things on his back
        And lied lied lied lied lied.

But they couldn't stop Jack, or the waters lapping
And they couldn't prevent Jack from feeling happy.

[Break]

[Repeat 2nd verse]

[Break]

        [Chorus]

[Repeat 2nd verse]


Though The Who already had built up an audience in England, and had already released such British hits as My Generation, Pictures of Lily, and Substitute, it was Happy Jack that introduced The Who to America. Though it got as high as #3 in England a few months earlier, it wasn’t a tremendous success, rising only so far as #24 on American Top 40. Yet the rock adaptation of a baroque cantata form to tell a story (as jumbled as the story is) was a fresh sound. Happy Jack seems stripped down, with an elaborate lead guitar part, a thumping bass and tireless drum rolls. The waters lapping in the repeated second verse are sung with various and humorous onomatopoeia.

The subject matter seems to be of a retarded man on the beach who is mocked by children. (This is an odd sort of story for popular music, but plays upon the English psychedelic aesthetic that praised innocence. Townshend has said that the song is based on his childhood memory of a such a happy man, oblivious to the taunts of boys, at a beach resort where donkey rides were offered to the kids.) Happy Jack perhaps depicts LSD, as English artists were wont to do, as a happy madness which isn’t frightening at all; if anything, it is funny. The accompanying video was slapstick, similar to the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. Townshend seems to take on ridicule for a being a freak in much the same manner as Dylan had in Rainy Day Women: "everybody must get stoned."

The album A Quick One reached the top ten in England. Though still participating more in pop / beat music than psychedelia, the collection is notable for its nine minute suite, A Quick One, While He’s Away made up of six snippets of songs loosely tied together to tell a story. It’s a comic bawdy tale that depends on puns ("Forgiven for giving") and isn’t entirely convincing, but it formed the foundation of more successful Who efforts that led to "rock operas" Tommy and Quadrophenia. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, about the same time, strung together the first successful pop "suite", a satire on the American work ethic, Brown Shoes Don’t Make It. These efforts to extend the musical form were a new development in pop music that several artists would develop through the psychedelic period and into the progressive rock period that followed.

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