The 5th Dimension
“Listen – Feelin’ Alright MP3″
The end of the week is here and it couldn’t have come any sooner.
I’m tired, I miss my family (who thankfully will arrive home this afternoon) and I’m about ready for some R&R (or as Elmer Fudd would say, “west and wewaxation..at wast”).
The skies here in NJ are dark and cloudy, but I honestly couldn’t care less. I expect to spend the weekend catching up with my wife and sons, and doing run of the mill, suburban errand running, laundry doing etcetera. I couldn’t be happier about it.
As I said on Wednesday, I’ve taken advantage of my solitude to stockpile and digitize vinyl (individual tracks as well as future editions of Funky16Corners Radio), so – as unlikely as this sounds – I’ve got the vinyl monkey off my back (however briefly) and can concentrate on regular stuff for the first time in a while. I might even read a page or two if the opportunity presents itself.
Anyway…today’s selection is a prime example of the power of a good song. I can’t imagine that when Dave Mason – sitting around with his pals in Traffic – penned ‘Feelin’ Alright’, he had even the slightest inkling that it would become something of a standard, recorded countless times by rock, soul and pop artists, from Joe Cocker to Grand Funk Railroad, to Lulu, to the Jackson Five to the Supremes. I also doubt he had any idea that not long after he recorded the song in 1968, he would be fired from the group he co-founded. Either way, one would hope that he recovered nicely and smiled as the royalty checks filled his mailbox to capacity.
It was only recently that I accidentally discovered one of the unlikeliest contributors to Mason’s bank account was none other than the 5th Dimension. Now, I know that for a lot of folks (especially soul music fans), the name 5th Dimension doesn’t exactly conjure up images of hard hitting, gritty soul music. There’s a good reason for that, mainly that they were for all intents and purposes a pop group. If I were to find one of their contemporaries to compare them to, I’d probably point to the Mamas & Papas (the 5th Dimension even had one of their first hits with a cover of the Ms&Ps ‘Go Where You Wanna Go’). This is not to say that they were not at times a soulful collective. Though their bread and butter was covering singer/songwriters like Laura Nyro and Jim Webb, they also recorded one of the first covers of Ashford & Simpson’s ‘California Soul’.
When I was a kid, despite the fact that I had piles and piles of jazz and classical music to listen to, I can only remember two contemporary pop albums in the house. One was Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and the other was ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’ by the 5th Dimension. I used to play that album a LOT, and I remember years later, when I finally heard Marlena Shaw, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s versions of ‘California Soul’, and recalling how much I dug that song when I was 6 or 7 years old (not to suggest that I was preternaturally hip, but that sometimes youth and hipness do intersect accidentally).
A few months ago I was going through a pile of garage sale 45s that my father-in-law was kind enough to send my way, and managed to flip by a 5th Dimension 45, which just happened to have its b-side facing my way. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the flipside of ‘One Less Bell to Answer’ (a song that I could be comfortable NEVER hearing again) was a version of ‘Feelin’ Alright?’. Of course I had to give it a spin, and I’m glad I did.
Despite the fact that the voice most people think of when they remember the 5th Dimension is Marilyn McCoo’s buttery smooth contralto (the sultry yin to Karen Carpenters yang), her husband Billy Davis had a fantastic, soulful growl that didn’t make it onto too many of their more popular records.
Davis takes the lead on ‘Feelin’ Alright?’ and his vocal, the groups harmonies and a funky arrangement make for one of the better versions of the song. The overall feel is distinctly un-5th Dimension-ish, which may either be a good or bad thing, depending of course on the appeal to the individual listener of their other material (which I happen to dig).
Interestingly enough, the record was arranged not only by Bob Alcivar and Bones Howe (their regular arranger/producer) but also by Bill Holman. Holman was/is a legendary jazz arranger (he did some great, progressive charts for Stan Kenton and Woody Herman among many others). When I see a name like that on a pop/soul record (as with Ralph Burns work on the Sweet Inspirations album) I wonder how many other jazz cats on that level were actually making the majority of their bread arranging pop sessions.