Vs. Happy Birthday to You

Posted: November 2, 2011 in Music
Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s the deal.  According to law professor Robert Brauneis, “Happy Birthday to You is the best-known and most frequently sung song in the world.”  I’m not entirely sure how Robert came to this conclusion, but I’m assuming he has a lot of frequent flier miles and is a really good listener.  Regardless of his  methodology (and his obsession with the popularity of celebratory songs), he raises an important point…well, technically, he doesn’t raise this point, he merely provides me with the background facts that aid in my raising of the point…why do we keep singing this song?

In 1893, the Hill sisters wrote a little ditty called “Good Morning to All” for their kindergarten class.  And, honestly, it should have stopped there.  The simplicity of the melody and lyrics are just about right for that age.  Unfortunately, a few years later someone else (I could tell you their name, but does it really matter?) slapped on the happy birthday lyrics and today this song brings in two million dollars a year in royalties.

Two million dollars a year. 

For those of you who are not familiar with this tune (i.e. not a single human being on the planet), let’s review the lyrics.

The first line is easy to remember, because it is also the title of the song…

Happy Birthday to you…  

The second line is similarly easy to recall as it is both the title of the song and the first line of the song…

Happy Birthday to you…

Part of this year's twenty. Geez, I'm getting old.

Now it gets tricky.  Pay close attention, because this third line is going to mix it up a little.  There are two key changes here.  Firstly, we substitute “dear” for “to.”  Secondly, we replace the generic pronoun at the end of the lyric with the specific name of the person whose birthday we’re celebrating.  Crazy, huh?  This third line is different every time the song is sung…

Happy Birthday dear (insert name of the person whose birthday we’re celebrating)…

I know, I know, that’s a lot to keep track of.  That’s precisely why we get back to basics to wrap the song up.  Remember the four words that serve as both title, first and second line?  Well, here they are again…

Happy Birthday to you.  

Two million dollars a year.

This song is terrible.  I’m neither a composer nor a lyricist but I’m sure that if you polled either group they would concur that this should not be the most popular song in the world.  It shouldn’t be in the top ten thousand.

So, how am I going to do it?   How will I put an end to this ditty’s reign of tyranny?  Well, I don’t have the will power for a hunger strike…dumping tea in the harbor’s been done to death…and I’ve been holding a sit-in in my living room for months and nobody’s noticed.   But from this day forward – I’m instituting a birthday strike.  Until everyone, everywhere stops singing this song – I will not celebrate another birthday.  In fact, I will not age another day.  Screw that.  I’ll do you one better.  Until we get rid of this song, I’ll actually start getting younger.  Taking away the birthdays I’ve already celebrated.  That’ll show ‘em.  And I’ll continue this trend until my demands are met.  Don’t test me.  I’ll do it.  I’ll go as young as five years old…of course, then I’ll actually be the right age to start liking the song again…

  1. heathersnyder1 says:

    I like the Marilyn Monroe version and The Beatles birthday song so much better!

  2. As much as it would pain me to never again don the Birthday Fez at my local Moroccan restaurant, I’ll join you in the protest if you share your secret for growing younger.

  3. #4 says:

    I think the real question here is not “why do we keep singing this song?”, the real question is “how is someone making $2 million dollars in royalties off of something in the public domain?” That is the real interesting part. Someone has got a pretty nice racket going from a song that no one should have to pay to use. Someone is really smart.

  4. Lokyra Stone says:

    I agree with Heather. Monroe and the Beatles did it WAY better.

    We should just ban the boring birthday song. People start singing it to you on your birthday, start shouting over them and then sing the appropriate birthday song. They will learn. Keep shouting until they do.

    • heathersnyder1 says:

      Monroe and Beatles B’day song lovers unite! Thank you Lokyra 🙂 Not to mention Marilyn Monroe and The Beatles did pretty much everything way better!

  5. #4: I think someone actually bought the “rights” to the song, taking it out of the public domain–notice how they never sing it on TV? Although it is disputed. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_Birthday_to_You#History_of_the_song)

    Makya: I agree with how crap the song is, and love finding new ways to sing to people at various restaurants (I think TGI Friday’s is my favorite, right now). I also stumbled across some fantastic oddities several months ago that are the Birthday Song done in the style of Beethoven and one in the style of Tango. It actually makes it quite bearable, mostly because they’re hilariously well done.

    • Makya McBee says:

      Heather – If one sings it like Monroe did the lyrics are rendered irrelevant, and yes, the Beatles song is also preferable.

      Stephanie – I think few enough people read this that I can go ahead and safely let you know my secret to reversing the aging process. It’s surprisingly simple. Just take all of your household calendars and turn them upside down…this way the dates will begin to read in reverse. Problem solved.

      #4 – I still think the question is, “Why?” But, yes, it is peculiar that so much can be made from so little.

      Lokyra – You’d make a good teacher…or, at the very least, a loud teacher.

      Implications – Yep, there’s dispute. I got the quote from the law professor from an article he wrote on this very subject. But the fact remains that money is being made. And you bring up another good point – I need to eat out more often.

      • heathersnyder1 says:

        I happen to do a very good impersonation of Marylin Monroe and a very good one of her doing the Birthday Song. In turn, it usually freaks people out, and they politely say to me, “How many times do I have to tell you my name is not -Mr. President- and take that silly wig off.” It would probably help if I sang it to them on their actual birthday, not just any day of the week.

  6. Lokyra Stone says:

    Heather, will you sing happy birthday mr. president to ME on my birthday?
    Makya, I have no problem with shocking kids into silence.

  7. heathersnyder1 says:

    I will definitely sing you the Happy Birthday Mr. President version to you on your birthday, Lokyra. One Happy Birthday Mr. President song coming up…well, next year in September. I remember, you and I are Virgo babes!

    • Lokyra Stone says:

      Woot! It’ll be a first time for me.
      It gets creepier and creepier….

      • heathersnyder1 says:

        If we are very much alike, even creepier would be if you liked Sather’s Marshmallow Circus Peanuts…nobody likes circus peanuts but me. Ok…I take that back, I know 2 more people in the world that like circus peanuts.

        And, I’m penciling that Happy Birthday song into my calendar. 🙂

      • Lokyra Stone says:

        I like them about once a year. Sometimes twice.
        Woohoo! At least I know *something* is planned for my birthday.

  8. Laura4NYC says:

    It’s been way to long since I commented on your hilarious (sometimes rubbish) posts! Thanks for providing the background info to the most popular song (at kindergarten level). I really didn’t know it all started out with some “evil” sisters band back in 1893…

  9. Simi Mohan says:

    Makya , not that anybody cares if you or me lock ourselves in and vow not to eat till this song is removed from birthday goers lips;but still if we and I mean everyone who has participated in this discussion would decide to sit down and come up with a song to replace the current birthday anthem,a word of caution:
    1. It needs to be as ridiculous as the earlier one.
    2. It needs to be short.Public is forgetful.
    3. It needs to move in a way a yawn goes.So it first goes all the way up to a high pitch and then falls abruptly to the ground.

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