Today is my birthday. So ... I thought I'd write a few words about "birthday songs." The most obvious is, of course, the song "Happy Birthday" which has a pretty fascinating history. Apparently, the melody is from a song originally entitled "Good Morning to All" written and composed by Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill in 1893. This melody was eventually appropriated for "Happy Birthday to You" by 1919.
My first real recollection of a song about birthdays was Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday" from his 1980 album Hotter Than July. The song was actually part of a campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday and was released as a single in 1981.
Later, by my late teens, I heard the Beatles' "Birthday" from the White Album, a slightly insane song that seems a little bit tongue-in-cheek:
They say it's your birthday
Well, it's my birthday too
It was one of those silly songs off of the White Album that was probably knocked off in an hour.
Soon enough, when I became old and cynical, I heard the Smiths' "Unhappy Birthday," one of the most sublimely beautiful songs off their final album Strangeways Here We Come from 1987. That chord progression of Johnny Marr's is just stunning, and the song itself is just so weird and sad and almost pathetic:
As a final birthday song, I would put the Replacements' "Birthday Gal" which for years I thought was called "Birthday Carol." This song was recorded in 1987 during sessions for Pleased To Meet Me but never released until almost two decades later. I had the fortune to hear a bootleg version and I even had the chance to ask Paul Westerberg about it once. He just grumbled and said it wasn't that good. In fact, it's brilliant. I think the song is about a girl who's about to turn 30, i.e., nothing to do with me. But then again, it's kinda universal:
Birthday gal, did you wish yet?
Can you handle the turning?
The candles are burning low.
Birthday gal, do you wish that
There weren't quite as many candles
that you had to blow.
Anyway, so much for that. Happy Birthday to me! I hope I have a good year ahead. I really do. See ya.