Monday, 9 December 2019

Joe Cocker




Sheffield's finest gritty blues rock vocalist Joe Cocker produced a few seriously good albums in the late sixties/early seventies. These are the ones I have covered thus far:-

With A Little Help From My Friends (1969)
and Joe Cocker! (1969)

Scroll down to read in chronological order.

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WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS (1969)

1. Feelin’ Alright
2. Bye Bye Blackbird

3. Change In Louise
4. Marjorine
5. Just Like A Woman
6. Do I Still Figure In Your Life?
7. Sandpaper Cadillac
8. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
9. With A Little Help From My Friends
10. I Shall Be Released

BONUS TRACKS

11. The New Age Of Lily
12. Something's Coming On  

This was an impressive debut album from Sheffield's gravel voiced Joe Cocker. It has been remastered to a high level and is a revelatory listen. Cocker is probably best remembered as an interpreter of other people's songs and that is certainly a trend that is begun here. Musicians that appear that went on to become relatively well-known are Jimmy PageHenry McCulloughAlbert LeeTony ViscontiChris StaintonSteve Winwood and Carol Kaye. The musicianship and production together with the variety and subtlety of sound makes this an exceptionally good album and one that was actually quite considerably ahead of its time. Check out that cover too! He had a look of a late sixties/early seventies footballer about him, I'm thinking Reading's Robin Friday.
                             
Traffic’s Feelin’ Alright is a superb cover, full of rhythm snd soulful funk as well as a solid blues rock vibe. It has fantastic quality sound and is a great start to the album. Cocker had the enviable ability to turn any song in to his own bluesy, rocking classic and he takes the easy listening 1926 standard Bye Bye Blackbird and reinvents it as a piece of copper-bottomed blues rock. It stands up in its own right almost as if it had always been a blues song. Change In Louise is a wonderful, organ-driven serving of soulful rock, with the backing singers matching Cocker’s gritty vocals all the way. This really is excellent stuff.

  

Marjorine is a bit of an oddity, with a jaunty Beatles-esque feeling to it. It was 1969 I suppose. It has a vague hippy, psychedelic ambience to it as well. It is nowhere near as good as the three tracks that preceded it. It also, unfortunately, has a title that sounds as if it is a song sung to Margarine, that sixties butter substitute. Cocker then gives Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman a slowed-down soul makeover, backed by a churchy organ and a deep, rumbling bass. This was surprisingly quality fare for 1969.

Do I Still Figure In Your Life? has a feel of classic Atlantic soul and again has a gospelly sound to it. Cocker sounds like an authentic soul singer. Sandpaper Cadillac has a fine deep bass sound and a bluesy looseness to it. Material like this is up there with the best of its era. You can hear the influence this would have on Paul Weller’s solo output when you listen to Cocker’s delivery and the guitar/drum sound too.



The cover of The Animals’ Don’t Let Me Be Understood is as close to definitive as it is possible to be. The same applies, of course, to the now iconic interpretation of The Beatles’ With A Little Help From My Friends which turns Ringo Starr’s homely, unthreatening vocal on its head with a masterpiece of whisky-soaked soulful rock. Back in 1968, as a nine year-old, I had not actually heard The Beatles’ version, it not having been a single, so Cocker’s seismic version was my first introduction to the song. It totally blew me away, I absolutely loved it. To this day, when Joe starts singing it still sends shivers down my spine. I close my eyes and it’s October 1968 and I’m singing “do you neeeed anybodyyyyyy” in the playground, complete with Cocker screams. My friend and I would sing the line, then the "da-da-da" instrumental bridge, then scream our heads off.

The final cover is Dylan’s I Shall Be Released, along with The Tom Robinson Band’s 1977 version, it is up there with the best. Lovely subtle bass and electric violin backing to it. It is sort of Van Morrison-esque.

The bonus tracks are the psychedelic, late sixties-ish groove of The New Age Of Lily and the upbeat Small Faces-style soul of Something’s Coming On.

This is a fantastic-sounding album and a really good debut from a much-missed, very talented vocalist.

Below is a clip of Joe Cocker performing With A Little Help From My Friends on Top Of The Pops in 1968. Also included is a stunning clip from 1988 of Cocker performing for The Prince's Trust with assorted alumni - Marti PellowBrian MayElton JohnThe Bee GeesPeter Gabriel amongst others.





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JOE COCKER! (1969)

1. Dear Landlord
2. Bird On A Wire
3. Lawdy Miss Clawdy
4. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
5. Hitchcock Railway
6. That's Your Business
7. Something
8. Delta Lady
9. Hello Little Friend
10. Darling Be Home Soon                                                    

This was Joe Cocker's second album and is is mainly one of cover versions, albeit quality, gritty, soulful ones delivered by Cocker's Sheffield steelworker's growl. There are cover versions and there are Joe Cocker cover versions. The music, supplied by his Grease Band is immaculate too, and is presented with superb remastered sound on the album's latest release. It was a shame in some ways that Cocker was always used as an interpreter of other people's work, but in other ways, he does it so well that you can't find fault with it.

The album begins with a rollicking bluesy and upbeat cover of Bob Dylan's Dear Landlord, featuring some fine guitar and piano. Leonard Cohen's Bird On A Wire highlights Cocker's ability to serve up a slow slice of pure soul/blues. He was the male Janis Joplin. It is a pleasure to listen to. Leon Russell produced and arranged the album (and played piano) and you can tell on the swamp blues groove of Lloyd Price's Lawdy Miss Clawdy - check out the bass, guitar and piano on this one, all magnificent. I am sure Elton John absolutely loved this. It morphs, in suitably Abbey Road style, in to She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, from that year's Beatles album. Cocker's version highlights the essential bluesiness of the track, improving on it, if you ask me (but you probably won't).

  

Hitchcock Railway is a barnstorming piece of bar-room boogie, co-written by Booker T & The MG's bassist, Donald "Duck" Dunn and enhanced by some infectious rhythms and gospelly backing vocals (Merry Clayton, Bonnie Bramlett, Rita Coolidge, Patrice Holloway and Shirlie Matthews). This is so good it hurts. That's Your Business was the only track written by Cocker (with organist/pianist Chris Stainton) and it is a sleepy piece of whisky-drenched blues rock. It is very typical of the turn of the decade blues rock put out by many artists. Again, it flows into a Beatles track, this time George Harrison's Something, which has another sumptuous bass line (Alan Spenner was the bassist) and, of course, Joe coped with the song admirably.

Delta Lady is a wonderful piece of bluesy country rock with Cocker sounding like Elton John would go on to sound like in the early seventies. This must have been hugely influential on Honky Château. Leon Russell's Hello Little Friend is a plaintive, piano-driven slow, laid-back number. Darling Be Home Soon is a John Sebastian song, also covered by Slade on Slade Alive. It is served up here in stomping style.

This album, although short, is an absolute delight all the way through. God bless you Joe, and all the other musicians on the album. Great stuff.

** Non-album tracks are the rocking blues of Cocker and Stainton's She's So Good To Me and a cover of The Beatles' Let It Be which Joe lifts heavenwards, as you would expect.



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                          Joe Cocker

                          1944-2014

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