Some records are so infectious that they can become hits at any time. Jimmy Soul’s ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’ is one such, having proven its worth in 1963 and again to a new generation when re-used in the film Mermaids in 1990.
Jimmy Soul was a stablemate of Gary US Bonds who enjoyed a string of hits in 1961/2, including ‘New Orleans’ and ‘Quarter To Three’. The sax-dominated backing tracks to those records were the brainchild of label owner/producer Frank Guida, creator of “the Norfolk Sound”. Unashamedly dance party music, it usually came complete with background chat and whoops to add to the atmosphere. Guida’s house band the Church Street Five, including saxophonists Earl Swanson and Gene “Daddy G” Barge, provided a recognisable sound widely imitated by other producers, although they never quite caught the same magic.
Guida presented the song ‘Twistin’ Matilda’ to Bonds, who declined to record it. Instead it was given to Jimmy, landing him a #22 hit. It was based on a calypso tune, as were many of Guida’s numbers. Jimmy was more interested in the potential of its flip, the soulful ‘I Can’t Hold Out Any Longer’, but the happy simplicity of ‘Twistin’ Matilda’ easily won the day A well-crafted follow-up, ‘When Matilda Comes Back’, failed to chart, as did Jimmy’s third single. Then came ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’, based on the calypso song ‘Ugly Woman’, which went all the way to #1. A swiftly released album maintained the infectious quality with ‘Hands Off’, the soulful ‘I Want To Know If You Love Me’ and ‘When I Get My Car’. Tunes such as ‘You’re Nothing’ showed that Jimmy had the talent to be successful in a range of styles. He followed the hit with the excellent ‘Treat ‘Em Tough’ which only bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100. Further flop singles failed to sustain his career and a spell in Vietnam during which he was wounded ended his moment in the sun.
We are left with this 25-track collection to remind us that Jimmy Soul could have been a real contender when soul music fully developed later in the 60s.