Joe Cocker

I noticed the driving rhythm and the solos on the trumpet (Jim Price) and sax (Bobby Keys) before I really focused on the voice of the guy singing “The Letter.” But I think even before I appreciated the voice it drew me in. It was all guts, with an unpolished sound I doubt you can fake. Either you can wail like that or you can’t, and if you can’t, don’t try. I was sure it came out of a grizzled guy with a white beard. Turns out the singer was 26. The song wound up on that mix tape I had my dad make for me around 1991/92- the one I’ve posted about a few times.

If you think of the Beatles as one extreme of British rock and roll – artistic, composed, brilliant, funny, creative – Joe Cocker was at the other extreme: raw, shamanistic, with the power to draw speech out of others and transform them into something else.

He turned “With a Little Help from My Friends” from a charming ditty into a desperate grapple with loneliness that climaxes and collapses exhausted into salvation. (He did the same with Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright.”) “Give Peace a Chance” powers through politics to become a gospel raveup. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” changes from cute to dramatic.

He was a singular interpreter. Even his dance moves were… unique. They were just as unhinged as his singing.

If all you know is “With a Little Help from My Friends” or maybe “Feelin’ Alright” or “Love Lift Us Up Where We Belong,” check out these selections from his classic “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” album. Cheers, Joe.

Joe Cocker

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