How a musical gave Muse one of their biggest hits

24 October 2021, 14:30

What’s the story behind the trio’s awesome recording of the song made famous by Nina Simone? And what was the inspiration behind the lyrics?

Songwriter Leslie Bricusse has died at the age of 90. His agent confirmed the veteran musician passed away in his sleep on Tuesday morning (19 October) in France.

Bricusse was responsible for some of the most memorable songs of the 20th Century. He wrote the lyrics to the James Bond themes Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, composed Talk To The Animals from the musical Dr Doolittle and with his frequent collaborator Anthony Newley, wrote the song Pure Imagination from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

With Newley, the songwriter was also responsible for one of Muse's most memorable tracks - Feeling Good.

The band recorded a version of the song for their 2001 album Origin Of Symmetry and it’s gone on to be a rock classic, being named by the NME as the greatest cover version of all time in 2010.

But it almost didn’t happen, as Matt Bellamy has revealed.

“We didn’t do any covers at all,” he told Radio X’s John Kennedy during An Evening In Conversation With Muse in November 2018. “We’d all been in covers bands when we were younger, so we wanted to do our own music.”

However, the version of Feeling Good by Nina Simone caught Bellamy’s ear. “My girlfriend at the time,” he recalls, “Her favourite artist was Nina Simone, and she was listening to it all the time.

“I kept hearing that song Feeling Good and I just thought, with Chris’s distorted bassline, that could be really good.”

The first time Muse played the song was at a BBC Exeter session in September 1999, but it remained a favourite and was recorded in the summer of 2001 for the band’s second studio album.

Matt was right. The track was chosen as the penultimate track Origin Of Symmetry, but was considered strong enough to form a double A-sided single with Hyper Music in November 2001. It made Number 24 in the UK charts.

But Nina Simone wasn’t the first artist to record Feeling Good. In fact, it’s a show-stopping number from a Broadway musical…

Feeling Good was written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for their 1964 production The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd, which opened in Nottingham in the summer of 1964 and transferred to Broadway in 1965.

Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse in the 60s
Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse in the 60s. Picture: Silver Screen Collection/GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty

Newley was an interesting character, having been a pop singer and actor and a huge influence on a young David Bowie. The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd is a strange piece: the main characters are “Sir” and “Cocky” (originally played by Norman Wisdom).

Sir is taking Cocky through the Game of Life, but the younger, less inexperienced man always comes a cropper. The musical had a hit with Tony Bennett’s take on Who Can I Turn To and the barn-storming number The Joker later became known as the theme tune to the Aussie TV comedy Kath & Kim.

Anthony Newley, his then-wife Joan Collins and Cyril Ritchard as "Sir" in the Broadway premiere of The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd in May 1965.
Anthony Newley, his then-wife Joan Collins and Cyril Ritchard as "Sir" in the Broadway premiere of The Roar Of The Greasepaint - The Smell Of The Crowd in May 1965. Picture: Marty Lederhandler/AP/Shutterstock

One of the key moments come when the two are arguing over the rules of “The Game”, when a new character, a black man, steps forward and wins the game behind their backs. He sings Feeling Good as an expression of triumph over the oppression of the other characters. The song was first performed by actor Cy Grant and then by Gilbert Price in the Broadway run.

Cy Grant, the man who first sang Feeling Good, pictured in 1963
Cy Grant, the man who first sang Feeling Good, pictured in 1963. Picture: Brian Shuel/Redferns/Getty Images

In the hands of jazz singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone, Feeling Good became a powerful anthem for the times. Simone recorded the track for her album I Put A Spell On You in June 1965, and the version became for many the definitive reading of the song… that is, until Muse came along!

Feeling Good has also been covered by Michael Buble, George Michael, Lauryn Hill, Eels and even The Pussycat Dolls.

You can't keep a good song down...

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