Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker!

January 01, 1970

(Hip-O Select)


Years before he became the tragic burn-out parodied by John
Belushi on Saturday Night Live, Joe
Cocker was just another young soul rebel trying to grab the brass ring. The
British singer came up through the ranks of various skiffle and jazz-blues
bands like many of his contemporaries, but he distinguished himself from the
rest of the pack through his gritty, rough-hewn R&B vocals and a car wreck
performing style that had him staggering around on stage, flailing his arms in
the approximation of a disoriented sand piper, and belting out songs in his
best Ray Charles croak.


Cocker’s debut album, 1969’s With A Little Help From My Friends, represented more than just another
rocker finding gold with Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting skills. His soulful
take on the Beatles tune scored his first Top 40 hit and put Joe Cocker on the
pop music map. He followed it up quickly with a similar, sorta self-titled collection,
Joe Cocker!, that featured a mix of
covers of folks like Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and John Sebastian along with
originals penned for the album by Leon Russell.


Because Cocker was a superb stylist, there was very little
drop-off in his performances during the months separating his first and second
albums. Backed by the Grease Band, a solid group of punters led by keyboardist
Chris Stainton and including the six-string skills of guitarist Henry
McCulloch, as well as melodious backing vocals by Merry Clayton, Rita Coolidge,
and Bonnie Bramlett, Cocker blows through the songs here like runaway freight


Several of the tunes featured on Joe Cocker! would become live standards for the singer in the years
to follow. Russell’s “Delta Lady” is probably the best-known here, a
fine gossamer bit of British soul better known, perhaps, for its soaring chorus
and backing harmonies than for Cocker’s stellar vocal performance. Cocker’s
take on John Sebastian’s Lovin’ Spoonful gem “Darling Be Home Soon”
is pure magic, Cocker perfectly capturing the song’s desire and emotion. A
cover of New Orleans R&B legend Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”
is a real raver, even if Stainton does end up nicking pieces-and-parts of Alex
Chilton’s “The Letter” for his keyboard melody.


Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison, impressed with
Cocker’s previous take of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” gave
permission for the singer to use “She Came In Through The Bathroom
Window” and “Something” for Joe
The former is an unabashed soul-rocker with McCulloch’s
imaginative, slightly-twangy fretwork, while the latter is a showcase for
Cocker’s interpretive skills, his high-flying vocals matched by delicious
backing harmonies and Stainton’s half-gospel/half-psychedelic keyboard
flourishes; McCulloch also throws in a few choice notes just to lively things


Cocker would go on to find a greater measure of fame and
notoriety in the wake of his 1970 Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour, which would
yield both an acclaimed film and an album, and which would also help launch
Leon Russell’s solo career. By mid-decade, though, due to alcohol, Cocker had
become a mere shadow of his former self. He would recover from this stumble and
forge a satisfying and moderately successful career, but never again would he
reach the Icarus-like heights that he did with Joe Cocker!


Standout Tracks: “Delta Lady,” “Darling Be Home Soon,” “She Came In
Through The Bathroom Window” REV. KEITH A. GORDON



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