Welcome back to another edition of Adventures Through the Mines of Mellow Gold! It’s been way too long since we’ve done our wussy spelunking through smooth instruments and gentle vocals. But today, friends, we won’t be doing much singing. Okay, maybe there will be some singing at the end of this post, but for now, we’re going to explore a different side of this genre: the Mellow Gold instrumental.
Chuck Mangione — Feels So Good (edit) (download)
You kinda knew this was coming, didn’t you? There are only a few true Mellow Gold instrumentals — and no, “Baker Street” doesn’t count, because it has lyrics (even if nobody remembers ‘em) — but “Feels So Good” is perhaps the smoothest and mellowest of them all. There are plenty of reasons why, too — but first, let’s learn a little bit about Chuck Mangione, the man who clutches his flügelhorn so intently that I believe he’s nicknamed it “Mommy.”
Chuck Mangione — known around Popdose as the Mang — was born and raised in Rochester, NY, home to luminaries such as Lou Gramm, Steve Gadd (an eventual collaborator), Wendy O. Williams and Rosalie Hale. (If you know who Rosalie Hale is, congratulations, you’ve just been outed as a Twilight fan.) Mangione began his career as part of the Jazz Brothers, a group formed with his brother, Gap Mangione, as well as his two cousins, Benetton Mangione and Express for Men Mangione. (I’m making a funny, but Gap is indeed the name of his brother, meaning I’m now obligated to call him Gap Mang, which will also be the name of my next band.)
Mangione stayed true to his Western New York roots, attending the prestigious Eastman School of Music after high school and later leading the school’s Eastman Jazz Ensemble. Throughout this early stage of his career, he released albums with the Jazz Brothers as well as with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, where he held the coveted trumpet seat. He went on to record a number of solo albums and earned Grammy nominations for many of them, winning a 1975 Best Instrumental Composition Grammy for “Bellavia,” named after his mother. Is anybody else imagining this poor family’s Christmas cards? “Happy holidays from Bellavia, Chuck and Gap — The Mangs.” (I don’t know Chuck’s dad’s name, but I’m going with Pappy, because “Pappy Mang” is also a great band name.)
In 1977, Mang released Feels So Good. Clocking in at 9:40, the title track was too long for radio, but a 3:28 edit was a complete smash, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Easy Listening charts. It was also nominated for a 1979 Grammy for Record of the Year, losing out to “Just the Way You Are.” (Don’t feel bad, Mang — Gerry Rafferty lost too.)
There’s more to his career, of course, but this is where we’re stopping for now. It’s time for all of us to bow down at the Mang’s feet and praise “Feels So Good.” And why should we worship it? Because the song has emotion built right into the title. It feels so good, dammit, and when you listen to this song, you had better feel so good too, or else Chuck Mangione is going to knock your teeth out with his horn. And don’t think you can get away with feeling just a little good or sort of good. The Mang is demanding you feel so good. Demanding! You have no choice. Imagine listening to “Bluer Than Blue” and feeling…I don’t know, periwinkler than periwinkle. Or listening to “I Go Crazy” and feeling just a little anxious. Or if you merely experienced casual enjoyment of a rainy night instead of absolutely loving it. Or if moonlight just felt passable. I can do this all day, people.
And why shouldn’t you feel so good, anyway? Listen to this music. The Mang has essentially set up three separate, yet equally catchy melodies here.
Theme #1: Follow the Mellow Brick Road
Forget all the opening stuff; this is the meat-and-potatoes of the song. Listen to Mang lay that sweet shit down, with his flügelhorn gently guiding us down the Mellow Gold path. The drums are barely noticeable, and there’s an even quiter guitar in the left channel — but in the right channel, it’s a wah-wah carnival. I believe that this is Mang foreshadowing Theme 2, which I’ve titled…
Theme #2: Flügelporn, aka Slap That Ass
This theme is titled as such because when I used to listen to it in my office, this is the point where my officemate and I would make big, broad motions like we were slappin’ that ass. The Mang’s getting funky now and is demanding the same of his band; it’s as if the bassist had taking a lil’ nap in the studio and Mang suddenly stuck electrodes on his nipples to shock him awake. And there’s not just a little bass, either; we’re talking heavy, slappin’ porno bass. Awesome. This leads us into the second flügelhorn theme. (Anybody else getting tired of those pretentious little umlauts? And why isn’t “umlaut” spelled “ümlaut”? Seems like a missed opportunity there.) Anyway, the flügelhorn is echoed by the saxophone. The guitarist is still wah-wah-ing all over the goddamn place. Now, Mang runs over and puts the electrodes (possibly the same ones, possibly different) on the drummer’s nipples, and we get a nice little syncopated lead into the next theme. And if you’re wondering what the hell is up with me and this electrode/nipple theme, there’s no time to explain. On to Theme 3!
Theme 3: I Don’t Have a Clever Name For This Theme But I Love It Anyway
Love it. This may be my favorite of the three themes. The drummer punctuates each note with his high hat. The flügelhorn goes up. The bass goes down. The cow goes moo. The sax goes…eh, who cares what the sax is doing? This is a flügelhorn joint, son!
That’s pretty much the end of the song, thematically, but Mang is a generous musician, so he allows guitarist Grant Geissman to take a stab at each of the themes. In Theme 1, Geissman comes dangerously close to crossing the line over to full smooth jazz. (If you listen to the tone of the guitar, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.) Luckily, he gets a little funkier with Themes 2 and 3, ripping into a truly, truly awesome solo. Then it’s back to Mang with a repeat of the main themes, and we’re out.
You may notice that this final paragraph is referring to the edited version of “Feels So Good.” That’s because up until a few years ago, that’s all I knew. I was so naïve (frickin’ umlauts again), thinking I only had 3:28 in which to feel so good. But then I met Jeff Giles, a man who, upon hearing that I was attempting such complex emotions in under three-and-a-half minutes, opened my ears and soul by sending me the full, unedited version. Some speculate that this is the only reason I remain friends with Jeff today. I can neither confirm nor deny, but I’m taking the love that he shared with me and sharing it with you now, here on Adventures Through the Mines of Mellow Gold. See you in ten minutes!
Chuck Mangione — Feels So Good (full, neverending version) (download)
Now, I can’t speak for you, but here are the scope of my thoughts while listening to the unedited version of “Feels So Good.”
0:00 I’m so excited to have the unedited version of “Feels So Good”!
0:02 Oh, he’s introducing the first theme very slowly and deliberately. Nice.
0:37 Hey, I like the guitar! This is pretty!
0:51 Wait a minute, he’s going to do this with the second theme, too? Is that necessary?
1:16 This is self-indulgent.
1:28 I need a nap.
And that’s just the first minute and a half. The song then goes into the version we’ve heard on the radio, but after the themes are introduced, it’s solo central. After Geissman, we get a solo from Chris Vidala on the sax, then it’s back to Geissman. Geissman passes it back to Mang! Mang throws it to Vidala! They solo at the same time! They give the finger to Charles Meeks on bass and James Bradley, Jr. on drums, who don’t get solos! And then…the song fades out. What the hell, Mang? Nine minutes and 40 seconds and you fade out? What the shit is that?
So here’s the thing: while I do agree with Popdose writer Jason Crane that “Feels So Good” totally kicks ass, I’m suddenly not so sure I need almost ten minutes of this song. The performances are phenomenal, yes, but at some point, I’m just done. Your mileage may vary, though, and if you’re a staunch advocate of a Feels So Goodathon, then I strongly suggest picking up Jason’s favorite Mangione album, An Evening Of Magic: Live At The Hollywood Bowl — where you’ll get not one, but two versions of “Feels So Good”: nine minutes at the beginning and three at the end. And thankfully, neither version becomes the car wreck featured at the one minute mark below. And here I thought only singers wussed out of high notes!
Speaking of singers, here’s something I bet you didn’t know: “Feels So Good” actually has lyrics! It’s true. They’re really easy to remember, and I guarantee that once you hear them, they’ll be a part of your song experience forever. Here, sing along with me.
What do you think? Totally kick-ass, right? You’re welcome.
In all seriousness, there are actually lyrics to “Feels So Good.” Mang sang them himself on his 1982 album 70 Miles Young, a tribute to his father who is actually called Papa on this website! I was so close! (Oh, and the album can be yours for a mere $200!) The lyrics aren’t that great, and I sure as hell hope they’re not directed at his father (I think I heard a line about “let’s make love along the way”), but I actually find this version quite pretty. Enjoy this version, taken from a vinyl rip — sorry about the pops n’ crackles. And for those of you who have heard just about enough “Feels So Good” today, you can skip to 2:00, where the vocals begin.
Chuck Mangione — Feels So Good (Vocal) (download)
So what’s the Mang up to today? Well, after the success of “Feels So Good,” he toured and released a number of albums (including this one), and was even honored with A Salute to Chuck Mangione, a television special hosted by Dick Clark. In 1989, he retired from the music business, only to return in 1994, supposedly after Dizzy Gillespie’s death. Mang continues to record and tour today, and he’s managed to stay relevant thanks to his role as “Chuck Mangione” on King of the Hill, playing “Feels So Good” at every turn (though sadly not in this clip).
And that brings us to the end of another Adventure Through the Mines of Mellow Gold! Thanks for reading and we’ll see you back here soon!