Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Oxford-American on SUNNY

SUNNY review
by Bill Friskics-Warren


ONE SO TRUE: "Sunny"

Blind musicians who made their home just blocks off Nashville’s country-identified Music Row, the Hebbs wanted their son, who as a child appeared with them and his brother Hal in nightclubs and at fraternity parties, to be exposed to a wide variety of music. From jazz, blues, and classical to country, gospel, and pop, Hebb’s parents instilled in their children an inclusive aesthetic that had them readily traversing not just musical boundaries, but lines of race and class as well. His early work as a professional musician included a stint, when he was just twelve years old, working with country star Roy Acuff, for whom he tap-danced and played the musical spoons on the Grand Ole Opry. Despite the novelty value of his contributions to the act, Hebb clearly took the experience to heart, so much so that several years before “Sunny” became an international hit he released a cover of his boss’s famous “Night Train to Memphis” as a solo artist. He also reminisced fondly about receiving songwriting advice from Hank Williams Sr. while in Acuff’s employ. Similarly, his experience with “Sunny” gave Hebb further opportunity for cultural reciprocity when it earned him an invitation to tour with the Beatles in 1966.

The record begins unassumingly enough. “Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain / Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain,” Hebb sings to a snappy 4/4 rhythm. Soon, however, the tension begins to mount and the drummer goes from lightly accenting only the backbeats to bearing down hard on all four counts of each measure. Hebb expresses thanks for his encounter with Sunny and sees their meeting as a sign that his dark days—and, presumably, those of the nation, given that the shooting of President Kennedy was an impetus for the song—are behind him. He even goes so far as to say that he feels ten feet tall, but the edge in his voice, particularly as the second stanza gives way to the third and the vibraphone motif darkens, tells a different story. With the horns echoing his bleating cries of “Sunny” note for note, Hebb sounds as if he’s clinging to the hope that if he can only express enough gratitude he might one day have something to be thankful for.


Read author Bill Janovitz's review on

Song Review by  [-]

In 1990, the performing rights organization of composers BMI released a list of the Top 50 most performed songs from their catalog. Coming in at number 18 was Bobby Hebb's "Sunny." The song is such a staple on oldies radio around the world, so ubiquitous that it slipped in before "The Girl From Ipanema" and "(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay." And yet, it is one of those rare, infectious numbers that one rarely tires of hearing. A number two hit from 1966, "Sunny" tiptoes in as a cool piece of soul, with just bass and brushed drums accompanying the honey-voiced Hebb for the first line: "Sunny, yesterday my life was filled with rain." The restraint continues with vibes and muted staccato guitar chords join in for the second verse: "Sunny, you smiled at me and really eased the pain," remaining in for the rest of the verse-refrain: "Oh, the dark days are done, and the bright days are here/My sunny one shines so sincere/Oh, Sunny one so true, I love you." At this point, a drum fill propels the arrangement upward, abandoning the brushes for a straight and punchy 4/4 backbeat, with horns entering the fray, weaving harmonies under the vocals -- the horn chart is a hook in and of itself. The verse and refrain ends with an up-and-down four-note motif lifted from the "James Bond Theme (Dr. No)." And from there, the arrangement continues to build, with the drummer pounding the snare on each quarter note and female backing vocals popping up during the third verse. And the arrangement begins modulating up in key for the third and each subsequent verse. About a minute and a half into the song, the bassist seems to get thrown by the modulation, and stumbles again just after the two-minute mark -- a warts-and-all philosophy perhaps meant to preserve the spirit of the overall ensemble performance. There are no other changes in the song, just the increasing tension of the stacking arrangement. Hebb has a classic soul singer's voice, somewhere in between those of Lou Rawls and Rawls' former mentor, Sam Cooke.

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