Welcome to the seventh and final installment of our song-by-song commentary on Get Happy, penned by band leader and 2078 Portland mayoral candidate Thomas M. Lauderdale. This week Thomas talks about the history behind “Get happy/Happy days are here again”, and how the amazing Phyllis Diller ended up on the album. Enjoy!
Track 14: “Get happy/Happy days are here again”
“Get happy/Happy days are here again” is the iconic duet performed by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland on national television on The Judy Garland Show in 1963. We recorded several different combinations of singers, but in the end it made sense to have Rufus be Judy Garland and China be Barbra Streisand. It’s a hard thing to pull off … to be able to hear both songs individually, but to also hear the blend of the two. It’s pretty exuberant as you can tell by the laughter at the end. China is positively giddy, and Rufus says “Heeerreah”. It’s a great moment. It’s pretty happy.
Track 16: “Smile”
About a year and a half ago, Pink Martini played two shows on New Years’ Eve at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. One of our guest stars was the incredible Kim Hastreiter, the editor in chief of Paper magazine in New York City, who in recent years has become our official triangle & cymbal & glockenspiel player. Knowing that Kim was good friends with the legendary pioneering comic/actress Phyllis Diller, I begged her to introduce me. So a couple of days later, Kim took me and Joey Arias to meet Phyllis Diller at her house in Brentwood. Phyllis made us delicious chili. But before we ate chili, she showed us her paintings. There were literally hundreds of paintings on the wall all throughout Phyllis’s house, each with a price tag. You would take whatever paintings you wanted off the wall, and at the end of the night you would get tallied up, Phyllis would sign them, you would give her a check and off you would go into the sunset. I had to buy a new suitcase to carry home my cache of extraordinary Phyllis Diller paintings … flowers, self-portraits, abstracts.
I knew that Phyllis had studied classical piano growing up in Lima, Ohio. In fact, she released several albums in the late sixties … one with a wild version of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” I impulsively asked her if she would consider recording a song for our next album. Thankfully, her friend Bernie Shine, who was there at chili dinner, thought it was a really great idea and helped convince her to say yes. So one month later our engineer Dave Friedlander and I flew down to Los Angeles, set up an impromptu recording studio in Phyllis’ living room, and she recorded from top to bottom the song “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin, which was perfect because Charlie Chaplin was a friend of hers. She knew precisely what she wanted to do, the way she wanted to phrase, the words she wanted to draw out. Recording this song that afternoon in her living room was truly a sublime moment. And, it is her last recording: she died on August 20, 2012.
That’s it, friends! We hope you’ve enjoyed the series. Are there other Pink Martini stories you’d love to see shared on our blog? Share your ideas with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. We look forward to hearing from you!