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The song "Happy" was originally written by legendary Smokey Robinson, but was first released as a single by Bobby Darin in 1972. It would reach the number 67 spot on the Billboard charts in the United States as Darin's last single to chart. Robinson wrote the song for the film Lady Sings The Blues, but the song was never featured in the film or on the soundtrack album—although the official title of the song was "Happy (Love Theme from Lady Sings The Blues)." Michael Jackson recorded the song as a child in 1973, although the song is credited not only to Michael Jackson, but also to the Jackson 5. It was first released as a single in Australia and reached the number 31 spot on Billboard charts there, and it was later released in Great Britain where it reached the number 52 spot. It never charted in the United States, fading from obscurity in English speaking countries. Robinson's and Darin's versions of the song were—in my opinion very—uninspiring, but Michael Jackson's phenomenal version would help propel the song to worldwide acclaim in Latin American countries. (More on that later.)
I grew up in Latin America as a child. My parents were foreign service officers and I spent almost my entire childhood in several different Spanish speaking countries. I lived in Ecuador, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic was the last post where my parent's were stationed and I lived there from 1974 to 1977. I was a happy, very outgoing kid and I made friends quickly. I immediately was made aware of a musical group from Spain that all the kids were raging about called La Pandilla. La Pandilla was the precursor of the musical group Menudo that would have such an impact in America years later. It was formed by the very same producers who put Menudo together. La Pandilla consisted of five kids (four boys, one girl) that were an incredibly gifted group of young singers that hailed from the very upper class in Spanish society. They released super polished albums and excellent song choices were made for them to record. The man who managed them, Pepe Augierre, made the mistake of releasing their first single call "El Alacran." The song was immediately and immensely popular, especially with older children and younger teens. "El Alacran" translates literally as "the scorpion," and it also happened to be the name of the anti-Franco rebel group fighting the dictator's regime in Spain during that time period. The single was banned and the group went underground. The producers who had invested in the group decided to market the slickly produced album and the band in Latin America, most notably in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and that turned out to be a very wise decision.
When the US State Department sent our diplomatic family to serve three years in the Dominican Republic I was nine years old. I quickly picked up on what was considered to be cool, and what was cool was this awesome new and hip music group from Spain called La Pandilla. Their songs were being played every hour on local radio, and not on children's stations. These songs were being played and listened to by adults as well. "El Alacran" was mostly geared towards young children, but the song "Happy" (they called it "Happy, La Soledad"), was being played every single hour of every single day on adult music stations. The singer in the group who sung this song (his name is Gabby) emulated Michael Jackson's singing version of the song note for note, although of course it was sung in Spanish. No matter where we went in the country, the song was being played. Cashiers were singing it, you could here it being played on speakers in town squares, and it received that kind of adoration. The equivalence would be when the Beatles first released "I Want To Hold Your Hand" in the United States. My father always told me the story of hearing people sing and hum that song all over the United States when it was first released. La Pandilla had Beatle like receptions when the group later landed at airports in Latin America. Hundreds of screaming kids would greet them. Their images were on lunchboxes and other items for sale everywhere. They scored hit after hit on the radio and and sold records by the millions.
I became a huge fan, like many other kids in Latin America, and bought all their albums. Many other American kids who I befriended in the Dominican Republic had similar experiences. I begged my mother to take me to the sold out show at the stadium there and she did. I recently noticed that a CD was made of their songs with dance remixes made as well. It sold a lot of copies in Latin America, especially in Puerto Rico, where the group received its most fevered receptions. I have a warm place in my heart for La Pandilla and this song, and I just wanted to pass along the incredible story behind Michael Jackson's version of the Smokey Robinson song "Happy," and the impact it had on our planet.