Billboard.com will be marking Mental Health Month, which kicks off today, with various projects. Today, we have a retrospective of 31 songs, one for every day of the month, that speak to the importance of maintaining a positive mental outlook.
As you can see from scanning this list, which was culled from hundreds of potential candidates, we’ve had such songs in all eras and genres, right up to a Demi Lovato hit that is listed on this week’s Billboard Hot 100. Take a look, and listen to a Spotify playlist of all 31 songs at the bottom of the post. (Except for the first two songs, which pre-date the Hot 100, the chart numbers refer to the songs’ peak positions on that chart.)
Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers, “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” (No. 1, 1945)
Mercer preaches positivity in this song, which he and Harold Arlen wrote for the film Here Come the Waves. It brought them an Oscar nod. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, among others, also had a smash hit with the song.
Doris Day, “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)” (No. 2, 1956)
This song may seem trite to modern ears, but there’s no denying the message. Day lived to be 97, so maybe there’s something to be said for staying positive. Ray Evans and Jay Livingston won their third Oscar for writing the tune for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which Day starred opposite James Stewart.
Julie Andrews, “I Have Confidence” (album cut, 1965)
Richard Rodgers wrote this ultimate pep talk song for the 1965 film version of The Sound of Music. Andrews received an Oscar nod for her performance. The film won five Oscars, including best picture.
Carole King, “Beautiful” (album cut, 1971)
King wrote this song which was one of the highlights of Tapestry, the Grammy-winning album that topped the Billboard 200 for 15 consecutive weeks. King’s version wasn’t released as a single, but the song finally got its due in 2014 when it became the title song of the hit Broadway musical, Beautiful: The Carole King Story.
The Staple Singers, “Respect Yourself” (No. 12, 1971)
“If you don’t respect yourself/ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot.” The former gospel group told it like it is on this funky smash, which mixed hard truths and with a dash of humor. The song’s co-writer, Luther Ingram, would soon land an even bigger hit as an artist, “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right.” The Staple Singers recorded the definitive version of this song, but, for the record, Bruce Willis‘ for-a-lark 1987 cover version climbed higher on the Hot 100 (No. 5).
Johnny Nash, “I Can See Clearly Now” (No. 1, 1972)
Nash wrote this lilting, reggae-influenced song, which is upbeat without seeming Pollyannaish. The smash logged four weeks at No. 1 in 1972. Reggae star Jimmy Cliff took the song back into the top 20 in 1993.
Diana Ross and Lena Horne (separately), “Believe in Yourself” (album cut, 1978)
Charlie Smalls wrote this song for the 1975 Broadway musical, The Wiz. In the 1978 film version, it is sung twice, by Ross as Dorothy (in a sweet croon) and by Horne as Glinda (in a volcanic, show-stopping performance).
Monty Python, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (album cut, 1979)
Eric Idle wrote this wry song for the 1979 film Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It has gone on to become a popular singalong at public events, from soccer matches to funerals. It was featured in the Oscar-winning film As Good as It Gets and the Tony-winning musical Spamalot.
Elton John, “I’m Still Standing” (No. 12, 1983)
Elton and his long-time collaborator Bernie Taupin co-wrote this sassy survivor’s boast. Russell Mulcahy directed the iconic video, which was lovingly re-created in the 2019 film Rocketman.
Patti LaBelle, “New Attitude” (No. 17, 1985)
LaBelle recorded this song for the soundtrack of the Eddie Murphy film Beverly Hills Cop. It became her first solo single to make the top 40 and brought her a Grammy nomination for best R&B vocal performance, female. The synth-heavy arrangement screams mid-’80s, but the lyric and attitude are timeless.
Whitney Houston, “Greatest Love of All” (No. 1, 1986)
George Benson introduced this song on the soundtrack of the 1977 film The Greatest, a Muhammad Ali biopic in which Ali starred. Benson’s version reached No. 24 on the Hot 100. But the song will always be associated with Houston, who recorded it for her blockbuster 1985 debut album. Her stirring version topped the Hot 100 for three weeks (the second-longest reign of her 11 No. 1 hits) and became her first single to land a Grammy nod for record of the year. It’s a tragedy that she didn’t always heed the advice of her own smash (“learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”), but artists are flawed people, as we all are.
Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” (No. 1, 1988)
This amiable ditty brought McFerrin three Grammys — record and song of the year and best pop vocal performance, male. It was featured in (though not written for) the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail. This smash was McFerrin’s only Hot 100 hit, making him a true one-hit wonder. Actors Robin Williams and Bill Irwin clowned around with McFerrin in the video.
Destiny’s Child, “Survivor” (No. 2, 2001)
Beyoncé co-wrote this song with her father Mathew Knowles and Anthony Dent. The motivational track won a Grammy for best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocal. It contains an aspirational mantra that could have been written by Tony Robbins, “If I surround myself with positive things, I’ll gain prosperity.”
Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle” (No. 5, 2002)
The group wrote and recorded this engaging power-pop hit, the one with the video about the really cool party with the super-casual dress code. It was the band’s first chart hit, and their biggest on the Hot 100 to date.
Christina Aguilera, “Beautiful” (No. 2, 2003)
Aguilera won a Grammy for best female pop vocal performance for her instant-classic rendition of Linda Perry‘s song (which received a song of the year nod).
Katy Perry, “Firework” (No. 1, 2010)
Perry co-wrote this firecracker of a hit, which was her third of a record-tying five No. 1 hits from her sophomore album, Teenage Dream. The fizzy smash was nominated for two Grammys, including record of the year. “Firework” won video of the year at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Lady Gaga, “Born This Way” (No. 1, 2011)
Gaga co-wrote this hit, which is her only single to enter the Hot 100 at No. 1 to date. It spent six weeks on top (longer than any other Gaga smash), and became the first winner of MTV’s video for good award (as it is now called) for its Nick Knight-directed visual. The sound, style and attitude of this smash show Madonna‘s influence. This song helped pave the way for such other LGBTQ-supportive hits from major pop artists as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis‘ “Same Love” and Taylor Swift‘s “You Need to Calm Down.”
P!nk, “Fu—in’ Perfect” (No. 2, 2011)
Pink co-wrote this hit, which brought her a Grammy nod for best pop solo performance. Having the F-word in the title of a No. 2 hit showed how times have changed, but the message is timeless.
Selena Gomez & the Scene, “Who Says,” (No. 21, 2011)
Gomez offered a helpful rejoinder to her fans who had been told they didn’t have what it takes: “Who says you’re not star potential?/Who says you’re not presidential?” This was the highest-charting Hot 100 hit by Selena Gomez & the Scene. Gomez soon after went solo and scored even bigger hits.
Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” (No. 1, 2012)
This defiant smash logged three weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, longer than any other Clarkson hit. It was Grammy-nominated in three categories, including record and song of the year.
Sara Bareilles, “Brave” (No. 23, 2013)
Bareilles and Jack Antonoff co-wrote this song, which was inspired by Bareilles watching a friend struggle to find the courage to come out as gay. This is the second-highest charting hit of Bareilles’ career. It received a Grammy nod for best pop solo performance. Bareilles performed the song on the 2014 Grammy telecast in a segment which also featured King singing “Beautiful.”
Kendrick Lamar, “i,” (No. 39, 2014)
You’ll remember this song chiefly for two hooks: That warm sunburst of guitar, borrowed from The Isley Brothers‘ 1973 classic “That Lady,” and the refrain “I love myself,” which is repeated 19 times. “i” won Grammys for best rap song and best rap performance.
Taylor Swift, “Shake It Off” (No. 1, 2014)
“The haters gonna hate.” True enough. This is Swift’s only single to enter the Hot 100 at No. 1. It spent four weeks on top—the second-longest run of her five No. 1 hits. It brought Swift three Grammy nominations, including record and song of the year. Swift’s advice to “Shake It Off” echoes Jay-Z‘s advice in his 2004 hit “Dirt Off Your Shoulder.”
Meghan Trainor, “All About That Bass” (No. 1, 2014)
You don’t look like Gwyneth Paltrow? Neither does Meghan Trainor and she’s OK with that, perhaps because her mama always told her, “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top.” This doo-wop-accented smash, Trainor’s first Hot 100 hit, logged eight weeks at No. 1 and went on to receive Grammy nominations for record and song of the year.
Rachel Platten, “Fight Song” (No. 6, 2015)
Platten co-wrote this spunky song, which became her first top 10 hit. She won a Daytime Emmy for performing the song on ABC’s Good Morning America. Hillary Clinton used the song to rev up her supporters at rallies during her 2016 presidential campaign.
Alessia Cara, “Scars to Your Beautiful” (No. 8, 2016)
Cara co-wrote this song, which contains this great lyric: “You don’t have to change a thing/ The world can change its heart.” This song shared in the MTV video for good award (as it is now called). That year, MTV decided not to declare a winner and let all six nominees win.
Julia Michaels, “Issues” (No. 11, 2017)
Michaels co-wrote this song, which expresses the truth that nobody’s perfect: “‘Cause I got issues/ But you got ’em too.” This song, Michaels’ first Hot 100 hit as an artist, received a Grammy nod for song of the year.
Kesha, “Praying” (No. 22, 2017)
Kesha co-wrote this song, in which she owned her truth and expressed her hard-won self-respect. The song became her highest-charting hit in nearly five years. It brought her a Grammy nomination for best pop solo performance.
Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid, “1-800-273-8255” (No. 3, 2017)
What’s the phone number of the suicide prevention hotline? Millions of young people are more likely to know that potentially life-saving bit of information as a result of this smash, which all three of these artists co-wrote. It landed Grammy nods for song of the year and best music video.
Shawn Mendes, “In My Blood” (No. 11, 2018)
Mendes co-wrote this song about overcoming self-doubt, which was nominated for a Grammy for song of the year. Mendes also co-wrote the spirited “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” (2017, No. 6).
Demi Lovato, “I Love Me” (No. 18, 2020)
Who can’t relate to this line: “I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself/ But I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else.” Lovato has had numerous hits about self-esteem. Others include “Skyscraper” (No. 10, 2011), “Confident” ( No. 21, 2015) and “Anyone” (No. 34, 2020). In 2012, “Skyscraper” won MTV’s video for good award (as it is now called). Lovato co-wrote the three most recent of these songs.