It occurs to me that I’ve been remiss lately. I’ve been complaining about those who do life wrong–anti-vaxxers and anti-abortionists, Republicans, and software designers, for example–but I haven’t given any guidance for how to do life right.
I mean, I’d have thought it would be obvious, but the news continues to prove that it’s anything but.
So, with that–and my desire to make this blog a somewhat cheerier place–allow me to present a short playlist of songs that set a proper example.
Actually, it’s a very short playlist, so before I go there, I’m going to highlight a couple of songs that didn’t make the list.
“Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag”
Damn near everybody has done this one–this version is Bob Crosby and Martha Tilton–buy why? Ignore your problems and they’ll go away is lousy advice in any situation. Maybe it’s useful as a short-term strategy in a high-stress situation, but I’m even dubious about that. Anyone else think this was an early precursor to a certain track from Bobby McFerrin?
“On the Sunny Side of the Street”
Another dubious recommendation that everyone takes a swing at. No digs at Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee: it’s a great song. But really, “deny your problems exist and let someone else deal with them” isn’t helpful either personally or socially. As we’ve seen with the Republican attitude toward climate change.
“Swinging on a Star”
Bing Crosby, of course. The song is so loaded with negative stereotypes, I just can’t bring myself to recommend it as a guide to life: mules are stubborn and stupid, pigs are rude and dirty, and fish are sneaky scammers, or so Der Bingle tells us. So, even though the advice is good–stay in school, or, more generally, learn something–is an excellent first step towards living right, I just can’t bring myself to put it on the playlist.
Let’s move on to the songs that did make the cut.
“Pennies from Heaven”
Bing Crosby again, this time in a number that does meet my standards. His introduction seems like it would be a better fit for “The Best Things in Life Are Free”, and some of the advice is a bit dubious. Taken literally, carrying your umbrella upside down is not only counterproductive from a liquid standpoint, but any cash falling into it is likely to bounce right out. Figuratively, though, it’s on the money (sorry): smiling even when you don’t feel it can make you feel better. And who can argue with any song that reminds you that standing under a tree during a lightning storm is a bad idea?
“Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”
Johnny Mercer nails this one, musically-speaking*. The lyrics are a bit more Judeo-Christian than I’d really like–Noah and Jonah feature prominently–but the message works. Focus on the good things. Acknowledge the bad, sure, but don’t let them control you. And, while the words do stress having faith, it’s not specifically faith in God. As far as I’m concerned, faith in yourself works just as well.
* And I do love the intro. “The topic will be Sin / And that’s what I’m ag’in’.”
“Straighten Up and Fly Right”
Nat King Cole, of course. And the advice is as timeless as the performance. Listen to that little cricket in the top hat. Nobody has to tell you when–or how–you’re going wrong; you know it already. Don’t call that voice a conscience if it makes you uncomfortable to think you have one, but listen up. And fly right, brother.
“Let It Alone”
The Dixie Hummingbirds’ biggest fame came as a result of backing up Paul Simon, but they’ve been around for nearly a century. This track* often gets lost among their gospel numbers with more conventional lyrics and themes. But the message here is worth remembering: not only can you not fix everyone’s problems, but you shouldn’t even try. It’s not “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Even the sinless have better things to do than to go nosing into other people’s business.
* Historical diversion: Kids, ask your grandparents about early methods of recording video. In particular, ask them about the SLP mode on VHS recorders. (Hint: it slowed the tape speed to one-third the normal rate, allowing six hours of recording on a single tape, at the cost of a significant degradation in video and audio quality.) Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find a better recording of this song online.
“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”
Monty Python, closing out our playlist. Be optimistic, pessimism will get you nowhere. I think it’s the best advice you’ll find in a song, even though as a pessimist by nature, I struggle to apply it myself. But when I fail, I do a bit of whistling, and I’m ready to try again.