The Who

Happy Jack

Song Review by

"Happy Jack" was one of the Who's most lighthearted singles, reaching number three in the U.K. after its release in late 1966, and providing their belated commercial breakthrough in the United States, where it reached the Top 30 in mid-1967. "Happy Jack" is grounded in two musical hooks: a jaunty, playful, circular guitar riff, and an insistent two-note bass line that pulses through much of the track. Like much of composer Pete Townshends work from the period (indeed much work by major British groups the Beatles and the Kinks in 1966-1967), it has a chipper, singalong feel. Further parallels with the Beatles and the Kinks in 1966-1967? It's a whimsical third-person character sketch of a strange fellow named "Happy Jack" who lives on the Isle of Man and stays happy in spite of abuse from the local kids. (Sometimes it's been said that "Happy Jack" is about a donkey, but in fact the song does state at its outset that Happy Jack is a man.) The irregular, nervous tempo of the verses gives way to a brief bridge with a brasher, more upbeat rhythm and chords before returning to the main motif. The Beach Boys' influence upon the Who, in their harmonies mostly, reached a peak in 1966 and 1967, and "Happy Jack" is one of the tracks in which that trait is most apparent, especially in the high harmonies on the bridge. The cleverest part of the arrangement, in fact, is probably the varied harmonies on the verse, in which the group shoots off rapid-fir, stuttering "la-la"s. Considered one of their more lightweight efforts by some critics, "Happy Jack" was nonetheless highly enjoyable and gave them an all-important entree into the U.S. market, after a couple of fruitless years that had seen almost half a dozen excellent previous singles ignored. The famous tag -- Pete Townshend faintly saying "I saw ya" -- occurred when Keith Moon was making funny faces at the group while the harmonies were recorded. Told to lie on the floor out of sight, he popped his head above the glass partition separating him from the rest of the group at the very end of a take, prompting Townshend's remark -- little noted by listeners at the time, but eventually a well-known piece of Who lore.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
A Quick One 1966 MCA 2:11
Direct Hits 1968 Classic Records
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy 1971 MCA 2:12
No Image 1974 MCA
No Image 1976
The Kids Are Alright [Video] 1979 Sanctuary
The Exciting Who 197? Universal Distribution
Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Who by Numbers 1982 MCA
Who's Greatest Hits 1983 MCA 2:12
The Who 1985 Grupo Laser Disc
Who's Better, Who's Best 1988 MCA 2:12
Thirty Years of Maximum R&B 1994 MCA 2:11
My Generation: The Very Best of the Who 1996 MCA 2:11
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of The Who 1999 MCA 2:11
Loucos Anos [DVD] 2000
Various Artists
The Ultimate Collection 2002 Universal Distribution 2:53
The Singles 2003 Polydor 2:14
Then and Now: 1964-2004 2004 UMVD 2:11
First Singles Box 2004 Universal International 2:11
The Early Collection: Magic Bus/Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy/Who's Missing 2004 Griffin 2:12
Gold: British Invasion 2006
Various Artists
Hip-O 2:13
Greatest Hits 2009 Geffen 2:12
Greatest Hits & More 2010 Polydor 2:12
Icon 2011 Geffen 2:12
Icon 2 2011 Geffen 2:11
The Who Hits 50! 2014 Geffen 2:13
Maximum A's & B's 2017 MCA / Polydor 2:11
No Image Hiwatt 2:12
Maximum BBC [Bootleg]