Listen to this track by Sheffieldian blues-rock exemplar Joe Cocker, who today turns 69. It’s “Feeling Alright” as taken from Cocker’s 1969 record With A Little Help From My Friends. The album is well-named, given the range of talent that went into its creation, taking Cocker’s own formidable talents as a given. Among the many contributors to the record as a whole include Jimmy Page, Stevie Winwood, Tony Visconti, Henri McCulloch, and Chris Stainton, among others.
On this track, a cover version of Dave Mason’s song that first was heard by Traffic, Carol Kaye holds down the bottom end on bass guitar, David Cohen on guitar, Paul Humphrey on drums, and Artie Butler on the piano. It’s Butler’s ivory-tinkling that really stands out here, balanced against Cocker’s gruff and impossibly soulful vocals. It’s hard to believe that Butler would make his name later on as a musical director for Barry Manilow and Neil Sedaka, among other middle-of-the-road acts. But, there you are.
The concoction made for one of the most memorable songs of the era, eclipsing the original and creating a template for many versions to follow. This isn’t a bad feat for an interpretive singer at a time when interpreters were making less and less impact covering the material of others – although Cocker would pen tunes on the record as well. So, what’s the difference here?
Well, for one thing, the arrangement is stellar, with Cocker’s completely unusual voice at the center of it. There have been a lot of blue-eyed soul singers before and since, with varying competencies in terms of delivery. The trap most of them fall into is that of imitation of a style, rather than a display of an embrace of it. Cocker is a force of nature on this, taking his key influence in Ray Charles, and moving into his own style with ease. This is no imitation of anyone. Cocker is the genuine article here, singing the blues, and yet not holding to any of the standard conventions of the blues at the same time.
And then of course there is that piano from Butler which is an effusive, jubilant texture against Cocker’s rough hewn bark of a voice. It seems to pull from jazz, with a slight touch of country honky tonk at the same time, and balanced against latin percussion and gospel-flavoured backing vocals. This was Butler’s shining moment, along with the overall arrangement, which is also his.
The song itself would have an impact on the charts, scoring Cocker a respectable top 100 placing. Of course, he would later score bigger hits later on, after his appearance at the Woodstock Festival the summer that followed the release of the With A Little Help From My Friends album. Subsequently, he’d have further Beatles-related success with covers of “She Came Into The Bathroom Window”, and “Something”. Later into the ’80s, he’d score a big hit with his duet with Jennifer Warnes in “Up Where We Belong”. But, “Feeling Alright” was among the first of his singles to establish him as a singular voice in British soul singing with a rock edge.
Joe Cocker remains to be an active performer today. Check out the Joe Cocker site for more information.
And once again, happy birthday Joe!