Joe Cocker was a throwback. He did covers when everyone else wrote their own songs. While everyone was in a group Cocker was a solo act. While Rockers tried to look cool on stage, Cocker's movements could be best described as "spastic." The only thing Cocker had going for him was the most wailing and riveting Blues voice to come out of Britain. Cocker's self-titled debut, produced by Denny Cordell and Leon Russell (who would figure predominately in Cocker's future) contained a fantastic version of the Beatles "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window." His second album "With A Little Help From My Friends" featured some famous names like Jimmy Page. Cocker went to the Beatles well again for the title track. He also covered Traffic's "Feelin' Alright." These two albums show Cocker at the height of his powers.
|Mad Dogs & Englishmen|
Cocker was booked for some U.S. shows but had no band. He faced some nasty lawsuits until famed session pianist/producer Russell volunteered. He could have put together a guitar-bass-drums-keyboards unit and hit the road. But he didn't. Rather, he created the first big band Rock troupe complete with a horn section and backing singers. Russell was more ringmaster than bandleader. Because of the high overhead Cocker made little money from this tour. And because of an unfavorable recording contract he failed to see much money from the live double album that documented the tour. Figures. "Delta Lady," High Time We Went" and "Cry Me A River" are outstanding.
Cocker spent the '70s playing a washed out has-been to the hilt. Alcohol figured predominately and led to disappointing performances and recordings. In the '80s, he re-surfaced singing the MOR ballad "Up Where We Belong" with Jennifer Warnes for "An Officer and a Gentleman" soundtrack While subsequent recordings were improvements over the bulk of Cocker's '70s work they hardly compare with his 1969-71 prime.
Joe Cocker is one of the most distinctive voices in Rock. His first two albums "Joe Cocker!" and "With A Little Help From My Friends" shows him in complete command of the songs. He even manages original readings of Beatles songs which is a major accomplishment. "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" is a tour de force live album. "Joe Cocker" (no exclamation point) released in '72 is a solid album but the decline had begun. For Cocker, the '70s are a lost decade. The '80s and '90s are better but by this point Cocker is producing ballads, Blues and little Rock. There are several compilations with the first "Greatest Hits" collection released in '77, being the most satisfying. However, it would be far better to pick up the first two albums.