One for Friday: Blackgirls, “Happy”

There is some music that simply sounds like 90FM to me. Or rather, it sounds like the version of 90FM that was there for me when I was an undergraduate student. Tuning in to the campus radio station was like reading a letter from my closest friends. The music that achieved the greatest success there often connected with someone there in a deeper way that a simple admiration for its catchy hooks (although, let’s not diminish the importance of that factor). It didn’t necessarily have moony, heartfelt lyrics that expressed some unspoken melancholy among my friends or, conversely, some triumphant celebration of the certainty of self (although, let’s not diminish the importance of those factors either). Sometimes it was simply the tone and style of the music that did the trick, somehow capturing a shared sensibility within our group through the precise ways the guitars jangled or the vocal harmonies intertwined.

The Blackgirls 1991 album Happy sounded like it belonged at the station, almost like it was made for the station, from the moment we first slipped it over a spindle (or popped it in a CD player, but I have some memory of this showing up on vinyl). It had a tinge of that worldly folk music to make us all feel enlightened for playing it and the female vocals were both tough and inviting. I think the spare openness of the music made it feel more accessible to us, as if this were a band we might unexpectedly encounter in a cool local coffee shop if our little college town had cool local coffee shops. A concert from the band would be just a good–or better–in a rundown living room than it would be in a club or a theater.

I don’t recall just how popular the album was at the radio station. Maybe it wasn’t, really, and my initial impressions have reshaped that history. It’s definitely not an album that I listen to now and have certain songs trigger a flood of potent memories the way that some releases from the era do (with certain songs, I can almost close my eyes and feel the old studio air chair beneath me). It all does still sound right, though, and, just as I did back then, I can quickly rattle off a whole list of DJs whose playlists had ample room for these tracks.

Blackgirls, “Happy”

(Disclaimer: It appears to me that both of the albums released by the Blackgirls are out of print and unavailable through any means, even digital. I’ll concede that I haven’t trawled all of the incredibly artist-friendly sites where some of the unlikeliest material has turned up. Still, I’m posting and sharing this song with the belief that there’s no easy, sure way to purchase it that will guarantee remuneration to the artist or, just as importantly, the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. Should anyone with a legitimate claim on this song want it removed, merely asking will make it promptly happen.)