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Joe Cocker: The Beatles connections
by Martin Lewis
In this reflection on the sad passing of Joe Cocker, producer and Beatles scholar Martin Lewis, who knew Joe from way back, offers some recollections of the Beatles' enduring love for Joe
The Beatles all adored Joe Cocker. Like them he was a salt-of-the-earth lad from a Northern working class town.
Many people know that Joe first came to fame in the UK in 1968 with his cover of "With A Little Help From My Friends" (which became a UK #1), and his performance of that song at Woodstock the following summer rocketed him to US and subsequently world fame.
While happy to receive the publishing income, the Beatles were not always thrilled by some of the covers of their songs. That was not the case with Joe.
They first heard his version of "With A Little Help From My Friends" in the summer of 1968 while they were recording the "White Album," several months before it was released in November 1968. They were so blown away by it that they sanctioned the use of an animation cell of Ringo from the "Yellow Submarine" film to be used in print ads promoting Joe's single version. With Ringo (who of course sang the original) appearing to sing "Hey Joe, don't make it bad... Take a sad song and make it better," inspired by the opening lines of "Hey Jude" released only weeks earlier.
Paul expressed it best in his recent tribute to Joe. He said, "It was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful to him for doing that."
The following August, Joe performed it at Woodstock and took perpetual ownership of the song.
But even before his Woodstock triumph, as the Beatles were recording their swansong "Abbey Road" album and Joe was recording his second album, they offered him first pick of their new songs. Joe had a very astute ear and chose to cover "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" and "Something."
"Abbey Road" was released in late September 1969. Joe's album followed in early November. His covers of those two songs were, as intended by the Beatles, the first covers of those two songs.
Despite popular conception, Joe was not an overnight success. He'd been around as a singer since the early 1960s in his native Sheffield (a steel-producing town in Yorkshire in the north of England, the British equivalent of Allentown).
His affinity for covering the Beatles actually started with his very first single. In September 1964 he released a cover of "I'll Cry Instead" (from side 2 of the recently-released UK "A Hard Day's Night" album).
Incidentally, on that recording his session guitarist was the very young Jimmy Page! Who re-teamed with Joe in 1968 on "With A Little Help From My Friends." The track was VERY short, only 1 minute and 40 seconds. But it's quite heavy for 1964, and it hints at the greatness to come...
R.I.P. Joe. We're so glad that you figured in our lives.
Published December 29, 2014
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