- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
“I Got Rhythm”
The Happenings, June 1967
George and Ira Gershwin’s iconic “I Got Rhythm” came from the 1930 musical Girl Crazy, which saw Ethel Merman make her Broadway debut and Ginger Rogers become a star. Three versions of the song soon ran up the hit record charts.
Fast-forward to 1967. The popular music world is often defined by psychedelic experimentation, drugs, long hair, and funky outfits.
Enter a vocal group of four clean-cut, short-haired, suit-wearing New Jersey guys, looking more Wall Street than Woodstock.
They say they want to record older songs—some from as far back as the 1920s and 1930s—in the hope of achieving success alongside the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane.
Hmm. Well, good luck, guys.
For the Happenings, this offbeat approach landed them on Billboard’s Hot 100 nine times from 1966 to 1969.
The cocky quartet liked to take “oldies” and add their own spin—rich, tight vocal harmonies wrapped around upbeat tempos, elaborate orchestration defining each punched-up remake, and the strong, confident tenor/falsetto of Bob Miranda out front. Somehow, this worked.
“We all came from Paterson, New Jersey,” Miranda explained on ClassicBands.com. “We met one night at a dance in East Paterson. We actually met in the men’s room, ’cause that’s where all the singers were. The echo. We sounded pretty darned good, so we decided to get together.”
They became the Four Graduates and for a couple of years sang in Catskills resorts (“for peanuts”) to gain exposure and experience.
Miranda later became a $25-a-week songwriter in the music-publishing office of the Tokens, former singers who had hit No. 1 with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” years earlier.
When the Tokens started a record label called B.T. Puppy, they cast about for talent. Miranda brought in his other three Graduates and auditioned. “They loved us!” he said later.
The Four Graduates morphed into the more modern-sounding Happenings and were soon on their way to AM-radio stardom.
For the group, choosing to record the jazz standard “I Got Rhythm” probably struck many in the music business as being odd at best or, at worst, just plain crazy.
But the New Jersey crew firmly believed they were on the right track. For their remake, Bob Miranda composed a brief introduction: “In this vast and troubled world, we sometimes lose our way / But I am never lost; I feel this way because …”
Once the Happenings’ version kicked into high gear moments later, the listener was hopelessly hooked.
“‘I Got Rhythm’ was a natural for us,” Miranda explained. “There was so much space in the song for us to put these unique vocal hooks … We just knew when we played it back that it was a hit. It just sounded so natural, and everything seemed to be there.” And it was.
The original tune was, of course, unfamiliar to most Happenings fans. When Bob Miranda was asked who wrote the song and he would answer that it was George Gershwin, the response was sometimes, “Oh, is he in the group?”
Randal C. Hill is a rock ’n’ roll historian who lives at the Oregon coast. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.