Dave Mason wrote this song and recorded it with his 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. He included it in his rain-soaked set at Woodstock.
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 our interview with Dave Mason
, he explained: "It's just a song about a girl. It's just another relationship gone bad."
Dave Mason wrote this song with the title "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.
This song was written while Dave Mason was visiting the Greek island of Hydra. "I was trying to write the simplest thing I could come up with," he told us. "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, which was on the tracklist. 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 this 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 this 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