25 songs that make us happy

EW Staff
·11 min read

Sean Gallup/Getty Images; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images; Christine Sutton; Rob DeMartin; Universal Music

We're still stuck in the house, or outside wearing masks, or socially distancing from anyone not in our pods (if you aren't doing these things, please bookmark this). In other words, we could all use a little personal cheer these days, even if it's just for a few minutes. That's why the Entertainment Weekly staff has compiled this handy list of 25 songs that make us smile.

Read more from EW's 2021 Happy List — a collection of pop culture pleasures to make your year even better.

"As" – Stevie Wonder (1976)

The track's final four minutes and 19 seconds — which include a groovy musical interlude, a powerful sermon-like bridge, and the rousing, gospel choir-assisted recapitulation of the chorus — fills me with so much joy because it's clear Stevie Wonder is truly having the time of his life. His passion is downright infectious. —Chancellor Agard

"Mr. Blue Sky" — Electric Light Orchestra (1977)

Is there a happier first verse in modern music than that of Electric Light Orchestra's bright and poppy 1977 hit "Mr. Blue Sky"? ("Sun is shinin' in the sky/There ain't a cloud in sight/It's stopped rainin' everybody's in the play...."). There could be a hailstorm, a torrential downpour, and a hurricane happening outside my window, this song would still make me grin harder than a Cheshire cat. —Alex Suskind

"Better Days" — Bruce Springsteen (1992)

Bruce Springsteen's 1992 paean to trading in self-pity for joy is not only a barn burner, it also contains some of the Boss' most personal and uplifting lyrics. Witty ones, too: "It's a sad man, my friend, who's living in his own skin/And can't stand the company." —Dan Morrissey

"Friday" — Rebecca Black (2011)

It started as a long-running joke. A friend and I would try to trick each other via text into opening a link with this famously reviled song on Friday mornings (sort of like Rickrolling, sans Rick). But something happened along the way. I began to associate "Friday" with laughing at the prank and "looking forward to the weekend." The lyrics are so extraordinarily silly-awful ("yesterday was Thursday, Thursday, today is Friday, Friday, we-we-we so excited...") that it would put a goofy smile on my face. Can something be undeniably terrible, yet also sort of wonderful? All I know is there's something about "Friday" that I find genuinely fun-fun-fun-fun. —James Hibberd

"Baba O'Riley" — The Who (1971)

Cliché? Perhaps. But sometimes there's a good reason for a song's cultural omnipresence. Pete Townshend's driving, titanic power chords and operatic lyrics have lost none of their power in the nearly 50 years since they were recorded, and ubiquity can't much diminish the song's ability to fill you with warmth and joy —Tyler Aquilina

"Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day" — Jethro Tull (1974)

Need some upbeat minstrel-folk energy in your life? Tull's got you. This classic '70s jam is brimming with good vibes and more. Sick flute riffs? Check. Rock accordion? Absolutely. Hit play on this bad boy and you'll be mentally prancing about the English countryside in no time. —Meg Smitherman

"Dancing in the Dark" — Bruce Springsteen (1984)

You can't start a fire without a spark, and you can't not break into an enormous smile when you hear "Dancing in the Dark." There's so much here that sparks joy from its inimitably synth riffs to its catchy hook to the #relatable lyrics like "I'm just tired and bored with myself" (or if you're a writer, "I'm sick of sitting round here trying to write this book"). But mostly, it's just the very idea of the song itself – that when everything gets to be too much, all you have to do is turn up the volume, turn out the lights, and dance it out in the dark (try it, I highly recommend it). —Maureen Lee Lenker

"Cachamba" — Kinito Mendez (1995)

The merengue track "Cachamba" from Kinito Mendez was released in 1995, around the time I was visiting my family in Peru. As the child of immigrants, I had no extended family in the States. So getting together to share laughter, music, and delicious food is very much my happy place. Hearing the first few notes of this song reminds me of my grandmother, who has since passed, who fell asleep after drinking beer (she wasn't much of a drinker). And of my uncle and aunts, who are mostly teachers, letting their hair down and having some fun. —Rosy Cordero

"Golden Hour"Kacey Musgraves (2018)

The title track from Kacey Musgraves' award-sweeping 2018 country album is the sweetest love song of the last decade. Its soft tone and adoring lyrics never fail to bring a smile to my face and have proved to be a lasting comfort in dark times. —Christian Holub

"Doctor Wu" — Steely Dan (1975)

One of the most lyrically impenetrable songs by a band with no shortage of them, "Doctor Wu" is perhaps best enjoyed as the immaculately crafted four minutes of jazzy pop-rock that it is. What's it about? When that saxophone solo hits after the first chorus, does anyone still care? —Tyler Aquilina

"Dear Maria, Count Me In" — All Time Low (2007)

It's one of the most popular pop-punk songs ever, and it's seeing a huge resurgence — more than a decade after its release! — thanks to a viral TikTok trend. With high-adrenaline music, lyrics that just beg you to scream at the top of your lungs, and that iconic cough at the beginning, "Dear Maria" provides the perfect burst of serotonin every time I hear it. —Sydney Bucksbaum

"Bust a Move" — Young MC (1989)

Even though it's over 30 years old, I cannot help but smile when I hear the 1989 hip-hop classic "Bust a Move." Maybe it's because it transports me back to the 10th grade, maybe it's because I can sing all the lyrics, maybe it's because it makes me want to… just bust a move? Young MC's upbeat track, which also happens to feature a groovy bassline courtesy of Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea, is pure fun from start to finish. —Rebecca Detken

"I Believe" from The Book of Mormon at the Tony Awards — Andrew Rannells (2011)

Whenever I'm having a bad day, I'll pull up the video of Andrew Rannells performing at the Tony Awards the year he was nominated — and robbed of a win — for The Book of Mormon. Not the cast album. Not the show itself. Just this one specific moment preserved on the internet from 2011. There's just something about Rannells' empathetic, endearing, absolutely joyful performance that always succeeds in making me smile. (Bonus: That's Bryan Tyree Henry as the skeptical general he's singing to at the end.) Try it out and you could be a "Believe"-er too. —Jessica Derschowitz

"Telepathy" — Christina Aguilera feat. Nile Rogers (2016)

If there's a desert between the pop diva's Lotus and Liberation albums, this track is the oasis. Written for the oft-overlooked Netflix series The Get Down, this mesmerizing mid-tempo tune presages the nu-disco moment music is currently in, blissfully combining vocal athletics with a signature, suggestive bassline via Rogers. —Marcus Jones

"Danza Kuduro" — Lucenzo feat. Don Omar (2010)

Seeing Fast Five for the first time was a religious experience, one that was capped off with a perfect film-ending montage. Roman and Tej got the same car! Han and Gisele are, thankfully, not heading to Tokyo yet! Brian demands a rematch with Dom! But the best part is the inclusion of "Danza Kuduro," a ridiculously catchy chart-topping jam from Fast Five costar Don Omar and fellow reggaeton artist Lucenzo. Do I know what any of the lyrics mean? No. Do I stop what and I'm doing to dance and sing along when it comes on? Every single time. —Derek Lawrence

"O Holy Night" — Celine Dion (1998)

It's the first song I happened to be listening to as I was riding through the streets of Manhattan on my bike and my wife called to tell me the doctor confirmed her pregnancy. The line "for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn… fall on my knees" cut right through me because it was truly a new day for us after so many failed attempts; I was so grateful I could've very well fell to my knees. The song will always hold a special place in my heart. —Lacey Banis

"St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)" — John Parr (1984)

This glorious slice of '80s cheese was penned for Joel Schumacher's widely reviled film St. Elmo's Fire, but inspired by Paralympian Rick Hansen, who circled the world in his wheelchair to raise awareness and money for spinal cord research. That backstory adds power to the song's uplifting lyrics, but the soaring horns section does pretty well in that department too. —Tyler Aquilina

"Know Your Worth" — Disclosure, Khalid feat. DaVido & Tems (2020)

Disclosure and Khalid take "Know Your Worth" — a bouncy track with a positive message about keeping your head up — to new heights with remix assists from Davido and Tems. The song will put a smile on your face and give you something to dance to. —Alamin Yohannes

"Starships" — Nicki Minaj (2012)

Can't even begin to describe the serotonin rushing to my brain the second I hear Nicki Minaj say "RedOne." The line "And I ain't payin' my rent this month, I owe that" immediately followed by "But f— who you want, and f— who you like" is what liberty sounds like. —Marcus Jones

"To Life" from Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

One of the all-time greatest up-tempo show tunes (from one of the all-time greatest musicals), this drinking song taught millions of goyim how to toast in Yiddish — "L'chaim!" as the refrain goes. And if it can get Jews living through pogroms in czarist Russia to dance and celebrate, how can it not make us happy? Those Sheldon Harnick lyrics offer some wise philosophy too: "Be happy, be healthy, long life! And if our good fortune never comes, here's to whatever comes." —Adrienne Onofri

"Movin' On Up" — Primal Scream (1991)

The opening track of the Scottish band's 1991 album Screamadelica finds singer Bobby Gillespie celebrating an escape from some emotional abyss ("I'm movin' up now/Getting out of the darkness). A mix of '70s-era Rolling Stones acoustic-blues slinkiness and rave culture-infused euphoria, "Movin' On Up" has helped drag this poor sinner out of deep holes aplenty. —Clark Collis

"Cecilia" — Simon & Garfunkel (1970)

You can't hear the beat of Simon & Garfunkel's "Cecilia" without, at the very least, tapping your toes. The lyrics might be about an untrustworthy lover, but the rhythm (and, eventually, the song) is about joy. You won't find another track that uses "jubilation" so perfectly. —Sam Highfill

"Freedom! '90" — George Michael (1990)

George Michael's "Freedom! '90" still sounds as retro and fresh as it did the day it hit radio, a growly breakup banger that will forever be best known for its supermodel-strewn heavy MTV rotation video that burned every symbolic bridge to the artist's own heartthrob past. Hidden in plain sight in the lyrics was an obvious coming-out anthem, almost eight years before Michael admitted he was gay — but in any club, car, or just your own living room singing along it's an undeniable declaration of independence. —Shana Krochmal

"King of Wishful Thinking" — Go West (1990)

I have not gone through a particularly bad heartbreak in my life, or even seen the movie Pretty Woman that popularized this song, but the refrain "I'll get over you, I know I will" is an eternal mood applicable to everything from a hangover to just 2020 in general. —Marcus Jones

"Dance the Night Away" — Van Halen (1979)

There is cowbell. There is yelping alongside yow!-ing. There are beaming harmonies and sunny harmonics. "Dance the Night Away" is Van Halen at peak brightness, peak joy; their M.O. in these three minutes is more to move your ass than to kick it. When you feel this song from across! the room, your Friday night suddenly begins, any day of the week. —Dan Snierson

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