Song 114: Sheryl Crow, “If It Makes You Happy” (1996)


This seems like another strange one to love, right? A hit Sheryl Crow song from 1996? And yet it is in my head all the time. Maybe has a tempo that matches my walking-around rhythm. Maybe I’ve heard it so many times that it just lives in my brain forever. Or maybe—and I suspect this is the reason—I can’t shake that chorus.

Because it’s such a grand gesture, octaves aren’t used very often in songs. The most famous example of an octave is in “Over the Rainbow.” It’s perfect for that song, because that eight-note leap happens just as the chorus starts, as if the journey to that place over the rainbow (Oz, a better life, some kind of escape) is under way.

In “If It Makes You Happy,” the octave isn’t quite as certain (it starts on the fifth in the song’s key, and not the root, as in “Over the Rainbow”). Instead of a serene, confident journey, the octave is used to plead a case, to dramatically ask a question. I read an interview with Crow a while ago in which she said that the song is about critics giving her first record some backhanded compliments. It’s a fair question: if you like it, what is there to gripe about?

I’m a sucker for songs that double as music-industry complaints and relationship woes (Aimee Mann post coming soon!), so this song is right up my alley. I also like the track’s Stones-y feel, Crow’s strained vocals during that octave leap, and the fact that she says “serve you french toast again” in a dramatic fashion, which always makes me laugh. Also, I apparently love songs from 1996. Because I am an old person.


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