Sunday, January 25, 2015

How you feeling?

I was reminded this morning, through a long chain of events and thoughts, of the song by Dave Mason called “Feeling Alright.” I described it as an “upbeat tune.” Well, the tempo is upbeat, but the feelings behind the words are decidedly down.

There’s quite a history to the hit song which has been covered by many other artists. My friends over at Song Facts explore that in detail.

Dave Mason wrote this song and recorded it with the group Traffic in 1968. Included on their self-titled second album, it was released as a single but barely nicked the charts, bubbling under at #123 in America and not placing at all in the UK. The following year, Joe Cocker recorded what has become the most popular version of the song, taking it to #69 in the US with a more upbeat rendition.

Many of Cocker's hits were covers, including "With A Little Help From My Friends," "The Letter," and "You Are So Beautiful." He made a career out of soulful interpretations of other people's songs.

This is one of those songs where the title belies the meaning. The singer is tormented by a breakup and asking "Are you feeling alright," with the retort, "I'm not feelin' too good myself."

In an interview with Dave Mason, he explained: "It's just a song about a girl. It's just another relationship gone bad."

Mason titled his song "Not Feelin' Too Good Myself," which is more accurate in terms of the song's meaning, but less marketable. The original Traffic version of the song, filled with the corresponding melancholy, was issued as "Feelin' Alright?" — the question mark providing a vital clue to the content.

Joe Cocker's version scrapped the punctuation and was issued as "Feeling Alright," which is how it was listed on most subsequent covers.

The song was written while Mason was visiting the Greek island of Hydra. "I was trying to write the simplest thing I could come up with," he explained. "Two chords was it."

Mason had left the band when he wrote the song (he split before their first album was released), but when he returned to New York after his time in Hydra, he ran into his bandmates, who were working on the group's second album. They reached an accord, and Mason came back into the fold, contributing this song and "You Can All Join In," as well as "Vagabond Virgin," which he wrote with the band's drummer Jim Capaldi.

Soon after the album was released in October 1968, Mason once again left the band, and a month later they broke up, with Winwood forming Blind Faith. In 1969, a third Traffic album called Last Exit was cobbled together from live recordings and unused studio tracks.

Traffic lead singer Steve Winwood played on Joe Cocker's With A Little Help From My Friends album, but not on his cover of this song. Cocker's version featured the ace Los Angeles bass player Carol Kaye, Paul Humphrey on drums, Artie Butler on piano, and percussion from David Cohen and Laudir de Oliveira.

A distinguishing feature of Cocker's cover is the female backing vocals, which were comprised of three of the most powerful Soul singers of the era: Brenda Holloway, Merry Clayton, and Patrice Holloway. Clayton can also be heard on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."

At least 45 different acts have recorded this song. Mongo Santamaria took it to #96 US in 1969, and Grand Funk Railroad made #54 with their 1971 version. Other artists to record it include Three Dog Night, Lou Rawls, The 5th Dimension, Rare Earth, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Paul Weller, The Jackson 5, Maceo Parker, and Isaac Hayes.

In 1976, Cocker performed the song on Saturday Night Live. John Belushi joined him on stage doing his famous impersonation of Cocker's spastic stage movements. Cocker didn't know Belushi was going to come on stage, but wondered what was going on when John asked him before the show what he would be wearing during the performance.

The song found a good home on the various FM rock formats of the early '70s, and Joe Cocker's version later became a classic rock staple. In 1972, after Grand Funk Railroad charted with the song, Cocker's was re-released, this time making #33 US.

Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top, Keith Richards, Kid Rock, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and music director Paul Shaffer performed it at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

The Jackson 5 performed part of this song on a 1971 TV special hosted by Diana Ross. Nine years later, Michael Jackson sang on Dave Mason's track "Save Me.” What comes around, goes around.

Whether it was upbeat of not isn’t really the issue. My recollection is a happy memory. Perhaps I’m mixing the song in my muddled mind with “Celebrate.”

"Celebrate" was on Suitable for Framing, the second studio album by Three Dog Night. The album was released in June 1969.

This album contains the top 20 hit singles "Easy to Be Hard,” "Eli's Coming,” as well as “Celebrate;" the latter of which (along with the album's opening track "Feeling Alright" … the connections continue) featured the Chicago horn section. It is also notable for being the first album by Three Dog Night to include songs written by band members Danny Hutton, Chuck Negron, and Cory Wells, and for its inclusion of the Elton John song "Lady Samantha," as John would not become widely known in the United States for another year.

Now “Celebrate” is a happy song … a song to dance to … “Dance to the music,” and dancing is always happy — right? And I'm an upbeat guy. So it is natural I'd remember this song. Or do I?

Or maybe I recall “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. “Celebration” reached no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in February, 1981, and held that position for two weeks. It's the band's only no. 1 hit. By late 1980, the song had also reached no. 1 on both the Billboard Dance and R&B charts. The song featured heavily on the radio for nearly the entire year and is still heard today at weddings and parties, and is a popular anthem for sporting events.

"Celebration" was played to help welcome home the 52 freed American hostages from Iran in 1981. Three years later in 1984 it was played to hail presidential candidate Walter Mondale's nomination at the Democratic convention.

It was also an international hit, reaching no. 7 in the United Kingdom in 1980, overall spending 13 weeks in the chart.

I guess my head is so full of songs that they all run together like water colors in the rain. My backward glances may be blurry, but at least I can remember something. I even think I can remember the '60s, but we all know that can't be true.

That should make you feel alright.

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