In the late spring of 1962, two young British songwriters were following up on their first hit play, “Stop the World — I Want to Get Off.”
The songwriting team — Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley — were up-by-the-bootstraps types, just hitting their 30s, and would become big stars. Bricusse, whose papers are now in the Library, would win two Oscars and one Grammy, writing or co-writing hits for everything from two James Bond films to “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” to “Victor/Victoria.”
But on this day — May 15, 1962 — none of that had happened yet.
Bricusse flipped open his notebook and sketched in a song they were putting together. It was set to be the 12th piece in their new musical, “The Roar of the Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd,” a comic allegory about class differences in Britain. The song was a minor piece for a minor character.
He called it “Feeling Good.” The play, with its awkward title and weighty subject, was only a modest hit on Broadway.
But that song! Its simple lyrics, rooted in sunshine and swagger, opening in a cappella clarity, were set off perfectly by brassy horns that saunter in on the second verse. It’s so malleable, so simple in emotion, that it became a template for a performer with a big voice and a big personality.
Nina Simone was one of the first, stamping it as an anthem of female sensuality and self-confidence in 1965. Bolstered by her unique vocals, it hit with the knowing power of a Maya Angelou poem.
Bird flying high
You know how I feel
Sun in the sky
You know how I feel
It quickly became one of her iconic songs and is still popular with millions; a flashy new music video of it was released in 2021, featuring four generations of Black women. Canadian balladeer Michael Bublé released his swanky version in 2005, gaining worldwide audiences and more than 238 million views on YouTube. Others? Plenty, in pop and jazz, by names such as John Coltrane, Sammy Davis Jr., George Michael and, yes, The Pussycat Dolls.
Not a bad day’s work for Bricusse and Newley in the spring of ’62. One hopes they took the rest of the day off.
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