May 152014

I am hoping that this will become a recurring feature here, in which I summon the collected wisdom of the Hall to help me understand what certain songs are actually about. Mostly these will be very familiar songs, some of them songs I like very much; but songs which, if push comes to shove, I actually have no idea what they are about. This isn’t to say that a song actually has to be about anything, or maybe better to say that it doesn’t have to be about any one thing. Anyway, you probably get the idea.

I want to start with “Happy Jack” by the Who. A good song, short and to the point. Can someone tell me what this song is about?



  22 Responses to “Can Someone Tell Me What This Song Is About?”

  1. Sorry for the late posting – much going on in the world of paying work! To make up for my delayed posting, let me be the first to comment on this very fine new feature. Without reviewing the lyric sheet, I’ll say – from my gut – what I always thought “Happy Jack” was about. I think it’s about a big, 30-some-year-old retarded guy at a seaside town who kids make fun of on the beach, in a cruel but good-natured way. No?

  2. misterioso

    Mod, you owe no one any apologies: you are the ace of the staff AND the innings-eating workhorse.

  3. Hank Fan

    It’s about a bunch of kids who really really tried to bother a weird man but were unsuccessful. Not sure of the larger point, if any.

    Great idea for a post.

  4. It’s about a guy ignoring conventions either because he doesn’t care, or he’s an imbecile, but either way, he’s much better for it. The underlying message that I took is that being true to yourself, even if it comes at the expense of having to separate from the herd, is the path to inner peace.

  5. cliff sovinsanity

    When I was a kid, some teenagers told me the song was about masturbation.

  6. No one’s pulling the ole, it’s about two minutes eight seconds!

    Yeah, always thought it was about a dude getting picked on. Just refreshed myself on the lyrics. I didn’t realize there’s a line about a furry donkey?!? Now I have to re-examine my beliefs.

  7. BigSteve

    Jack “lived in the sand at the Isle of Man,” which is where a young Pete used to spend his summers. That’s not where the incident(s) of sexual abuse happened that haunted him for the rest of his life, but I’ve got to think the song is not completely innocent. Kids romping with an older man, a furry donkey, and somebody “lied lied lied lied lied.” They couldn’t prevent Jack from being happy, but that doesn’t mean all of the kids were happy about this mysterious game.

  8. misterioso

    Folks, these are great! Almost each one taps into aspects of the song that I have noticed as well as aspects that never occurred to me. I am convinced there is something a little dark going on here, like BigSteve, yet I also get cdm’s rather more affirmative take on it.

    I still don’t know whether the song starts “Happy Jack wasn’t old but he was a man” or “Happy Jack wasn’t told but he was a man” or “Happy Jack wasn’t tall but he was a man.”

  9. misterioso

    Yes, the furry donkey is a puzzle. Slang for something?

  10. BigSteve

    I always thought it was “tall.”

  11. I’m now reminded of an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, in which the crew puts on a musical. There are already extremely creepy lyrics to one song that involve something about “the boy’s soul” that, when sung by Danny DeVito’s troll character, sound creepier: “the boy’s hole.”

  12. I thought it was “old,” but take note: I’m the guy who thought Van Morrison was singing “one Mormon dance with you!” in the chorus of “Moondance”.

  13. I thought it was “old” or “told”, either of which could make sense.

    “Old” would make sense if he is a man but willfully refuses to grow up and take on adult-like worries.

    Either “Told” or “Old” make sense if he is a simpleton and just doesn’t have the capacity to realize that he’s supposed to change his behavior as he gets older.

  14. misterioso

    Right! The problem is that each possibility makes sense within the context of the song (a context which, of course, I am not sure I really understand).

  15. misterioso

    See the discussion here: It seems this has bothered many other people.

    For what it’s worth, I just listened to Pete’s demo version from Another Scoop. He clearly sings “Happy Jack wasn’t old.” And “so they rode on his head with their furry donkey.” Supposing it is true that donkey rides were (are?) offered on the Isle of Man, this is still rather odd to say the least.

  16. I just assume “Furry Donkey” is some British slang that I don’t understand, as in “Giving him a bit of the ol’ Furry Donkey, eh, Gov’na?”

  17. Is it that Cockney rhyming slang? Furry donkey–>merry monkey–>curry junkie?

    Isn’t that how it works?

  18. misterioso

    Then you’d shorten it to “furry”–“a bit of the ol’ furry.”

  19. Man, even when Keith was describing it in his book, I thought, “Either I don’t understand that Cockney rhyming thing, or it is incredibly stupid.”

  20. I’m totally willing to adopt this and use it in conversation. What do you think it means, though?

  21. misterioso

    It’s all very simple. Often, but not always, the rhyming word is omitted. For example, “trouble and strife” is rhyming slang for “wife”; but is usually just “trouble.”

    Thus, “furry donkey” being rhyming slang for (something yet to be determined that rhymes with “donkey,” which rather narrows the field), we’d just say “furry.” Like I said, very simple.

  22. Hank Fan

    Can somebody tell me what “Slip Kid” is about?

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