0111: “Feel Alright” by Steve Earle

Throughout much of his career, Steve Earle has been the proverbial guy with no fucks to give but his music has always had an accessibility to it, alternating between the rock crowd that Springsteen and Mellencamp established in the ’80s and the traditionalist country movement in the same decade by Yoakam and Travis. “Feel Alright” was released twenty years ago but there is a timeless aspect here in that this song sounds perpetually like it is only a few years old, while also sounding like it could’ve been released in between Idlewild South and Shotgun Willie. This is one of my favorite songs to play on a jukebox in a bar (I like to bookend it in some way with “Johnny Appleseed” by Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros). Jukebox songs at the bar speak right to your music id. You’re standing at the jukebox—which are now just big Internet-connected hard drives with a large LCD screen and covered in LED lights—and you have to decide whether you want to be ironic (“Ice Ice Baby,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart”) or play to the audience (George Thorogood or Lynyrd Skynyrd if it’s primarily dudes, or Bon Jovi or Def Leppard if the drunk white girl ratio is above twenty percent) or play what you want like you really are the temporary DJ (maybe some deep cuts like “Possum Kingdom” and tracks you loved when you were in high school). To me “Feel Alright” is a perfect jukebox song: semi-obscure enough that it’s a fair bet that most people in the joint have never heard it, but accessible enough that it begins to sound familiar. The song is about a broken storyteller back from hell who’s pretty sure you’d want nothing to do with him if you’d seen what he’s seen—how is this song not perfect to play in a bar?

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