Remembering JIMMY SOUL (Aug 24, 1942 – Jun 25, 1988)

American vocalist best remembered for his 1963 number one hit, “If You Wanna Be Happy.”

JIMMY SOUL became a preacher at the age of seven and performed gospel as a teenager, becoming known locally as “the Wonder Boy.” His talent was noticed by Frank Guida, engineer of the legendary Norfolk sound, and was recruited to record some of the calypso-based songs that Guida had hand-picked for one of his other hit artists, Gary U.S. Bonds.

Soul’s only two charting hits were both Bonds’ cast-offs, 1962’s “Twistin’ Matilda” and 1963’s number one hit “If You Wanna Be Happy.” That song, with its upbeat, vibrant Caribbean sound, was a huge success and prompted Soul to try to re-create the success of his hit with some fairly derivative West Indian songs such as “Treat ‘Em Tough” and “A Woman Is Smarter in Every Kinda Way,” but he failed to chart again and later joined the Army, giving up his career in music. He died of a heart attack on June 25, 1988, at the age of 45.

IF YOU WANNA BE HAPPY

You would think that a song with lyrics like “An ugly woman cooks meals all the time, she’ll always give you peace of mind” would cause substantial outrage, but this song never got much upbraiding from women’s groups.

The feminist movement wasn’t well organized in 1963, but even subsequent covers and uses of the song have escaped criticism. It appears that the island rhythm and delivery make it impossible to take the song seriously.

Based on a calypso song called “Ugly Woman” by Roaring Lion (Rafael de Leon), the message of the song was “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, make an ugly woman your wife. “

It was a producer named Frank Guida who adapted this song from the calypso melody. Guida loved calypso music and spent some time in Trinidad; he came up with a song called “Twistin’ Matilda (And The Channel)” by combining calypso and R&B.

Guida, who was from Norfolk, Virginia, had produced Gary U.S. Bonds and Tommy Facenda, but he found a new singer to record “Twistin’ Matilda” – JAMES McCLEESE.

Guida dubbed McCleese “Jimmy Soul,” and in 1962 they released “Twistin’ Matilda,” which rose to #22 US. Guida then wrote “If You Wanna Be Happy” – again based on a calypso tune – with his wife Carmela and a songwriter named Joseph Royster (he and Royster wrote many songs for Bonds, including “Quarter To Three”).

The song became a huge hit, spending two weeks at US #1 in 1963. The follow-up “Treat ‘Em Tough” topped out at #108, and Soul never made another chart appearance.

Kid Creole And The Coconuts did a popular cover of this song that was released on their 1983 album Doppelganger.

This song was used in the movies Clean and Sober (1988) Chances Are (1989) Mermaids (1990) and My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997).

In the 1984 “Sam Turns the Other Cheek” episode of the TV series Cheers, Sam Malone (Ted Danson) quotes this song after an angry man threatens to kill Sam for having an affair with his wife. After the guy explains that guys are always going after his wife because she’s so beautiful, Sam tells him: “You know, tis like that sweet old love ballad says, lf you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife.”


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