It’s very likely that ASCAP and Time Warner are the only people who don’t think it’s stupid that the song “Happy Birthday to You” is copyrighted, and they only think that because they manage to squeeze two million dollars a year out of licensing the song. To combat this, radio station WFMU and the Free Music Archive teamed up to hold a contest for a replacement to the popular tune that we can all sing at parties, sing in public, and even sing in film and television without paying royalties as long as the artists are credited. The results are in, and here are your new go-to birthday jams.
The Free Music Archive has released the winners of the contest as an album on their website, and all the songs, as you might expect, are available for free. The contest had an impressive panel of judges that included Jonathan Coulton, who you may remember recently had a song stolen by Glee. Other judges were NPR editor Frannie Kelley, Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, and a few more.
The album, though virtual, is a two-disc set. The first disc features the first, second, and third place winners, as well as the two instrumental versions of the first place tune “It’s Your Birthday!” by Monk Turner and Fascinoma. Give it a listen, won’t you?
The second place winner was “An Alternative Birthday Song” by Bob Barta, which intentionally sounds a lot like the classic birthday song we all know.
Third place was also titled “It’s Your Birthday!” but was recorded by a group called The Blank Tapes.
Of the three, the only one I think could really catch on is Barta’s “An Alternative Birthday Song” but even that doesn’t address the fundamental problem that exists with “Happy Birthday to You.” We all sing that song with our friends and family in our lives, so when we see a birthday being celebrated in a movie or television show it’s off putting if they’re singing something else.
Getting the people who make movies and shows to switch to a song they won’t have to pay for is a lot easier than getting everyone else to do it. There’s no reason for average people to switch. ASCAP won’t come knocking at your kid’s birthday party because everyone sings them “Happy Birthday to You.” The only way to get that to happen is to blow everyone’s mind with a truly amazing song that they want to sing because it’s better, not just because it’s royalty free.
Of all the submissions, I think the one that could do that is “Super Psyched for Your Birthday” by The Danimals:
Come on. That’s pretty great. Everyone would love the screaming part, especially if everyone at your party is drunk. And it’s not just for kids. The Danimals also recorded an explicit version called “Happy FN Birthday.”
“Super Psyched for Your Birthday” kicks off the second disc of the virtual album, which seems to feature all the submissions and has about 100 tracks. By statistics alone, there’s probably something on there you’ll like, and if you’re a filmmaker it could be handy to have these songs at the ready.
For the rest of us though, I’m not sure anyone is really going to be looking to get away from “Happy Birthday to You” in their everyday lives. That said, I’d really love it if everyone got drunk and screamed “Happy FN Birthday” to me on my next birthday.
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