Recently, I had the television on, and, hearing an unrecognized (to me) disco/house version of Bobby Hebb’s 1966 soul opus, “Sunny,” looked up to find that it was playing in a Peloton commercial.  Being a longtime fan of the song, I held up my phone so I could Shazam it and found that it had been recorded by L’Tric & Chloe Wilson.  Having never heard of either, I Googled ‘em, and found that the two Australian artists had teamed up for what was described in a press release as “a sprightly revival of Boney M.’s 1976 disco hit of the same name.”  And while I’ve been a huge Boney M. fan for many decades, the song (one of their biggest hits) was itself, a cover of Hebb’s classic. 

I recalled having read somewhere that “Sunny” was one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music, and (wondering if this were still the case) decided to explore, further.  Turns out that, in 1990, when BMI compiled a list of the most performed songs from its catalogue, “Sunny” was ranked at #18.  A decade later, when BMI published “BMI’s Top 100 Songs of the Century,” “Sunny” ranked among the Top 25 (where it remains, to this day). 

This decidedly cheery song about a girl with an analgesic smile was actually inspired by the back-to-back tragedies of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, in Dallas, on 22 November 1963, and the fatal stabbing of Hebb’s brother, Harold, in Nashville, the following day.  Said Hebb, “…because times were at a low tide, I needed to pick myself up, and ‘Sunny’ became that pick-me-up.  It was, and is, an ode to a sunny disposition and a melodic plea for peace.”

In addition to the recent Aussie revamp, I heard in that Peloton commercial, “Sunny” has been used in television commercials for Volkswagen Golf (2017, Hebb), Indeed (2018, Hebb), Visit Israel (2019, Boney M.), the hold-music for New Zealand phone company 2degrees (2019, Boney M.), for a water-based juice drink in Luxembourg (2020, Hebb), and the Canadian radio version of that earlier mentioned Peloton commercial.  Further, the Boney M. version has appeared in such films as Repentance (1987, USSR), CJ7 (2008, China), Sunny Girl (2011, Taiwan), and Sunny (2011, South Korea); as well as in such television series as Titans (Season 1) and The Umbrella Academy (Season 2).

As of 2015, some 1,141 artists (both well-known and otherwise) had recorded covers of “Sunny,” some with the lyrics and some as instrumentals; so, I’ve decided to highlight some of my favorites (with videos) and provide links to the 70 or so that might most amuse or entertain you.  There are the usual cavalcade of crooners (Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Shirley Bassey, Robert Goulet, Frank Sinatra), the jazz singers (Della Reese, Blossom Dearie, Anita O’Day, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald), the soul singers (the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Melba Moore), and some decidedly out-there entries (Robert Mitchum, Leonard Nimoy, Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Les Coquettes), recent recordings (Luis Miguel, Jamiroquai, Bryan Adams, Billie Eilish) and even some recordings by those for whom I’ve decided not to provide links (Anita Bryant, Bill Cosby).

So, come back for Part 2, where I share my favorite versions of “Sunny,” categorized for your listening and viewing pleasure.  Enjoy!

“Sunny” by Bobby Hebb
Philips Records (1966)

Get into it!

Meiko Hirota (1965)
Bobby Hebb (1966)
Georgie Fame (1966)
Della Reese (1966)
Wilson Pickett (1966)
Bobby Vee and The Strangers (1966)
Chris Montez (1966)
Cher (1966)
Del Shannon (1966)
Buddy Richard (1966)
William Bobo (1966)
Johnny Mathis (1967)
Andy Williams (1967)
Herbie Jones and Tamiko Jones (1967)
Trini Lopez (1967)

Nancy Wilson (1967)
Johnny Rivers (1967)
Dusty Springfield (1967)
The Lennon Sisters (1967)
Robert Mitchum (1967)
Blossom Dearie (1967)
John Davidson (1967)
Carol Burnett (1967)
Lainie Kazan (1967)
Kay Starr (1968)
Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington (1968)
Eddy Arnold (1968)
Percy Faith & His Orchestra (1968)
Gary Lewis and The Playboys (1968)
Frankie Valli (1968)
Robert Goulet (1968)
The Four Tops (1968)
Leonard Nimoy (1968)
Shirley Bassey (1968)
Stevie Wonder (1968)
Mary Wells (1968)
José Feliciano (1968)
Ray Conniff & The Singers (1969)
James Brown (1969)
Jackie “Moms” Mabley (1969)
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass (1969)
Les Coquettes (1969)
The Head Shop (1969)
Jerry Vale (1970)
Cy Coleman (1970)
Melba Moore (1970)
Ella Fitzgerald (1971)
Anita O’Day (1971)
The Anita Kerr Singers (1971)
Billy ThunderKloud and the Chieftones (1974)
Boney M. (1976)
Earnestine Anderson (1980)
Luis Miguel (1987)
Marvin Gaye (1990, recorded in 1966)
Soul Fingers (1994)
Jamiroquai (1995)
Twinset featuring Barnaby Weir (2003)
Boogie Pimps (2004)
Christophe Willem (2006)
Bryan Adams (2014)
Dena DeRose (2016)
Laura Fygi (2016)
Adam Lopez (2017)
Gordon Beck Quartet featuring Joy Marshall (2018, recorded 1968)
Chris Clark (2018, recorded 1968)
Nick Page featuring Ruby Friedman (2019)
Bille Eilish featuring Finneas (2020)
Rebecca DuMaine and The Dave Miller Trio (2021)

Fascinating, your research is so great! Thank you Michael.
By EllenLV

ACROSS THE TRACKS: A LAS VEGAS WESTSIDE STORY—produced and directed by native Las Vegan Emmett Gates—shares the unadulterated history of Las Vegas’s Historic Westside neighborhood