This song reached #1 on the US Hot 100, which is astounding for a song sung a cappella (without instruments). McFerrin recorded it using only his body to make all the sounds. The simple message and quirky sound made it a surprise hit.
The phrase "Don't Worry Be Happy" came from the Indian guru Meher Baba. In an interview with USA Weekend magazine, McFerrin explained that he saw a poster of Meher Baba with the phrase and thought it was "a pretty neat philosophy in four words."
A jazz artist, Bobby McFerrin has a very adult audience, but 1988 was a year when different generations shared the pop charts. There was plenty of hair metal (Bon Jovi, Def Leppard) and teen pop (Tiffany, Debbie Gibson), but many older-skewing artists as well: The Beach Boys, George Harrison, Chicago and Steve Winwood all had #1 hits. McFerrin was unusual in that he didn't alter his sound for his hit - he released two albums of a cappella jazz prior to Simple Pleasures.
Robin Williams appears in the video, as does the lesser-known comedian Bill Irwin. The clip, which got lots of airplay on MTV, plays up the comedic nature of the song, with lots of goofy hijynx, including a scene where McFerrin plays a distraught investor ready to jump out of a window. That part was ripped from the headlines: on October 19, 1987, the Dow Jones lost 508 points, shedding 22% of its value. In the video, McFerrin is holding a newspaper that reads "Dow Plummets 508 Points."
This won Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Performance and Song Of The Year in 1989.
McFerrin is very optimistic in this song, but some of the problems listed in the verses will require more than a cheerful demeanor to overcome. The person he's singing to has lost his bed, has no cash or girlfriend, and his rent is late. "Don't worry" might not be the best advice for him.
The phrase "Don't Worry Be Happy" was used in some cases to criticize people with a rosy outlook on the world, as if they were oblivious to problems. The most notable use of the phrase in this context came from the rap group Public Enemy in their song "Fight The Power" when vocalist Chuck D declared: "Don't Worry Be Happy was a number one jam. Damn, if I say it you can slap me right here." Chuck later explained that he had no animosity toward McFerrin or this song, but was using the phrase as a call to action.
Suggestion credit: Bertrand - Paris, France
McFerrin wasn't the first jazz musician to have a surprise hit on MTV. That would be Herbie Hancock, who did it with "Rockit" in 1983. Back then, MTV wasn't playing black artists, so Hancock's video was purposefully made to show very little of him.
This got a big push from appearing in the 1988 movie Cocktail, whose soundtrack also included the #1 Beach Boys hit "Kokomo." Other films to use "Don't Worry Be Happy" include:
Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (2018) Battle in Seattle (2007) Casper - A Spirited Beginning (1997)
There have many "Don't Worry" songs over the years, including a Marty Robbins hit of that title in 1961. Stevie Wonder had "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing" in 1974, and Bob Marley got into the spirit with his 1977 Exodus track "Three Little Birds," which goes, "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing's gonna be alright."
The "don't worry" theme came up again in the 1994 movie The Lion King, where "Hakuna Matata," meaning "no worries" is a key song and also a major plot point.
This is the only a cappella song to reach #1 in the US. That sound was big in the '50s and '60s among doo-wop groups, but fell out of favor in the '70s, and by the '80s was often a novelty. But a few years later, Boyz II Men emerged with "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," an a cappella track that reached #2. In the 2010s, Pentatonix helped revive the genre, as did the Pitch Perfect movies.
Prior to "Don't Worry Be Happy," the biggest a cappella hit in the US was a cover of the '60s hit "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by a Canadian group called The Nylons, which reached #12.
In the early '90s, rumors spread that McFerrin attempted suicide not long after releasing this song. This was an urban legend with no basis in fact.
George H. W. Bush used this in his 1988 US presidential campaign but stopped doing so after McFerrin objected.
Joel from Lawrence, KsI can't believe that nobody has mentioned that this song was featured in the movie "Jarhead". It was also featured on the soundtrack. Bill Cosby was in the video for this slightly annoying song. It only got annoying because of too much play back when MTV and VH1 actually showed music videos instead of all the reality show *bleep* that is shown now. Semper fi
Ben from Perth, AustraliaTo Billy of Nederland: This song has never been recorded by Bob Marley. It was released in 1988 - Marley died in 1981.
Billy from Nederland , TxI am singing this song in a choir concert.My friend and I don't like Bob McFerrin's version of this. I like Bob Marley's version.
Stormy from Kokomo, InI still can't believe that this song beat out The Beach Boy's "Kokomo" for Song of the Year in 1988!
Montse from Verdú, SpainHave two or three high-spirited drinks and it'll all make sense... and you'll sing along the chorus all night long. If you are not under this condition, well, "Hakuna Matata" is far better!!.
Musicmama from New York, NyI was very happy when they stopped playing this song ten times an hour on the radio.
Musicmama from New York, NyTo Jameson of Lexington, KY: McFerrin may have lacked talent or vision, but Bush the Elder lacked taste and discretion. I understand that such things run in families.
Mitch from Melboune, AustraliaBobby Mcferrin is awsome, and really awsome, it would be awsome to meet him DON'T WORRY BE HAPPY!
Dave from Cardiff, WalesIn reply to Kim from New Brunswick, NJ - the song that held "Don't Worry Be Happy" off the #1 spot in the UK was "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)" by Enya, which topped the UK chart for three weeks in October/November 1988. "Don't Worry Be Happy" was #2 for the second and third of those three weeks. "Orinoco Flow" was less successful in the US, where it only made #24. And Alan, Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada - I've always liked this song and still do, it's so upbeat and positive!
Elo from Pärnu, EuropePeople who believe that it is bad and irksome, just don't know what good music is and I feel really sorry for them :) This isn't your average pop song, it is so positive and above this typical music, that there is no way to not like it :)
Kim from New Btunswick, NjWhat!? This only went to no. 2 UK!? That's really disappointing, actually. It would have been a much more complete, happy story had it held both top spots. : / It seems like EVERY song goes to number two in the UK. Does anyone know who kept McFerrin out of the top spot?
Jenny from Ontario, CanadaThe "Indian guru" listed in the facts, I believe, is Meher Baba. Pete Townshend of The Who is a Baba follower and I've read several references to "Don't worry, be happy" along with Baba.
Dan from Sydney, Australiathis song answers everything
Robin from Birmingham, AlTo me, the most irksome aspect of the song was the oh-so-fake Caribbean accent McFerrin affected for it.
Alan from Grande Prairie, Alberta, CanadaSorry but this has to list as one of the worst songs to reach #1. I've never met anyone whose admitted to liking it.
Steven from Arlington Heights, IlHaha, talking fish.
I had this song added to the roster, and was extremely surprised it wasn't added before. It was insanely popular when it was released. I grew up listening to the whole album, so there will always be a soft spot for McFerrin, even though many people dislike this song (after a while listening to it non stop gets a bit annoying, and then it became so popular that Bob couldn't do anything as good or better that he became known as a one hit wonder). Unfortunately that's what he'll be known as, a one hit wonder. I don't think he ever believed he'd get that popular, and it sorta ruined his pop music career, but he's moved on to better things.
Johnny from Los Angeles, CaThat's hilarious Jameson! Too bad nobody but u and me are talking here. On another subject, this song is on the infamous talking fish along with "Take me to the River." My friend once but it on his bike and we rode through LA blasting those songs!
Jameson from Lexington, KyIn 1988, the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign wanted to use this as a campaign song. McFerrin refused.