Song 283: Traffic, “Feelin’ Alright” (1968)

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I understand why Joe Cocker’s version of “Feelin’ Alright” was such a big hit, but I like Traffic’s original more. Dave Mason sounds nervous and shaky; he doesn’t sound coked up and frantic. I think Mason’s approach is a lot more interesting.

I also think the combination of the acoustic guitar and piano is a really good choice. It makes what would otherwise sound like a bluesy rock jam (cough Joe Cocker cough) something more like a quiet singer-songwriter song with an uneasy edge. That’s also why Mason is such a good singer, and, like Steve Winwood, such a good singer for Traffic in particular: he always sounds a little unsure, a little mysterious. Cocker can belt the hell out of a song, but Winwood and Mason can make you think about what’s prompting the song in the first place.

Speaking of which: what’s going on here? Something sure went down, whether it was a breakup or just a falling-out. The vivid word choices—locked doors, imprisonment, “there’s too much to do before I die”—make it sound like the narrator is suffering from some kind of breakdown. As the song builds in volume and energy, his mental state  sounds increasingly dire, finally reaching a zenith with those high-pitched “aaaalllllright” background vocals.

I’m probably reading more into this than necessary, but that’s kind of my point: there’s so much to read into with this version. With Joe Cocker’s take, you know where you stand. And who wants that?

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