Sunday, October 4, 2009

I'm Happy Just to Dance with You

Okay, October meanders on and we need to return to the less freaky Beatles songs. And there might be no less threatening Beatles song for a HarriSunday than today's earnest, polite-- yet wicked catchy-- pean to the pleasures of dancing. JUST dancing, mind you!

I've provided the video from the "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You" sequence in A Hard Day's Night, but I actually don't recommend watching it except to get a glimpse of happy smiling Beatles. The audio from this scene is pretty bad-- I don't know why, but the song was slowed down significantly for the film sequence, so it gets a little draggy, and worse, George's distorted lower vocal sounds totally weird and croaky. The version on A Hard Day's Night (the album) sounds far superior. I don't know if I've ever read how this change came to be made, but it's not a great one.

In fact, it's listening to the album track that makes you hear how sweet this track really is. If you're anything like me, you almost don't want to like "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You"-- it seems so corny and geeky, especially compared to the neurosis of "If I Fell" and the purity of feeling behind "And I Love Her," the songs that bookend it on the album. George tended to come off like the little brother of the group anyway, but this track listing just makes the difference ridiculously striking. Then you play the song, though, and you're just sucked into its sheer catchiness. Or at least I am. And I find myself able to overlook the slight, silly lyrics because the song just has such a pleasant feel to it. John wrote this one (the record is unclear as to whether he had help from Paul, but it seems to show that this one's at least mostly John's) as a work song, and gave it to George to sing because he didn't think very highly of it. But I think there's more good stuff here than John might have wanted to acknowledge.

There's something, from the introductory guitar melody (such as it is) forward, that's almost like a motive in this song-- that is, a small bit of music that's manipulated such that it becomes a structural element to the piece. It's maybe more of a rhythmic motive than anything else. If you hear the meter as a fast 4/4, there's a constant emphasis on beats 1 and 4 of one measure followed by an emphasis on beat 3 in the next measure, which almost makes the piece sound like it's got some kind of 3 + 3 + 2 meter going on. This is not exactly groundbreaking, and it's not the only time you can hear this kind of thing in Beatles music, but in "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You" this rhythmic figure just dominates the whole texture, from Ringo's drums to George's tinkling guitar part. The feeling is emphasized by John and Paul when they come in on their backup vocals, sliding into the high notes on beat 4 of the measure with particular verve. (Their backup moments are some of my favorite parts here, just because they sound like they're having a blast.) For some reason, to my ear, this rigid syncopation gives the song an old-fashioned flair, a bit of dance-hall-esque sound. But that might just be me making things up.

Also surprising element is the tension between E major, which the song mainly hangs out in, and c# minor, that key's close cousin. The chorus to this song actually has quite a bit of the minor flavor, only cadencing in that happier major key at the last minute-- which gives this an element of breathlessness. This is one of those small examples of the Beatles' awesomeness: "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You" probably qualifies as Beatles bubblegum, but you tend not to hear things like minor/major ambiguity and such like in the bubblegum songs of other bands at the time. Even the work songs are cool. Most of all, though, I just like the vibe of "I'm Happy Just to Dance with You," from the shy, eager quality of George's vocal to the jangly, almost messy guitar sound. It's just fun. Is this just me? Whatever. I've already given a breezy little track like this too much real thought-- I'm off to just dance around my apartment.

"I'm Happy Just to Dance with You," released in the U.K. side A track 4 of A Hard Day's Night, July 10, 1964; in the U.S. side A track 5 of United Artists' A Hard Day's Night, June 26, 1964.


  1. I'm with ya, Meg. I love this song, the jangly guitar, the happy breezy feel of it. And I think it captures a sentiment that most people can relate to: blocking out everything except holding someone you love in your arms and dancing. A fun song. And what's wrong with that? Nada.

  2. I have trouble with the early George songs. I just don't think George knew how to put chords together. When I like something he did, it was usually some line he sang especially low (Don't Bother Me, Words of Love).