November 9 – Joe Had All The Right Friends

It takes a lot of…moxy… to make your entrance to the world stage trying to one-up the most popular act of the day. Well, Joe Cocker had that kind of moxy as we found out around this day in 1968, when he hit #1 in the UK with only his third single, the title track off his debut album – With A Little Help From My Friends.

As in, the Beatles song only released about a year earlier. The Beatles had already amassed 15 British #1 singles by that time. Cocker had not yet had a top 40 hit there, or anywhere else for that matter. But that didn’t stop him from releasing his cover of their song from Sgt. Pepper... and perhaps surprisingly, the public loved it. Of course, with his voice, described by allmusic as a “soulful rasp of an instrument” and others as more akin to a coal train crossing a slightly rickety bridge, took the song to a whole new level of emotion, as was the case on most of his songs on the album, which also included two Bob Dylan covers. The title was very apt mind you, while Cocker sang the songs and wrote a couple of the lesser-known album tracks, he did have help from a lot of talented friends on the record. B.J. Wilson of Procol Harum drummed on the track and no less a talent than Jimmy Page (at the time just about ready to fold the Yardbirds and begin Led Zeppelin) on guitar. Carol Kaye and Steve Winwood were just two of the many other familiar names who played on other tracks on the album. Rolling Stone liked the album and compared him to Ray Charles. They then asked “why should someone listen to Cocker when there is Charles to listen to?” before answering that it was because Ray Charles rarely “applied himself to such exceptional modern material.”

With a Little Help From My Friends” was never released as a single by the Beatles, but was of course far from unknown to listeners which no doubt helped Cocker’s case. Although the album itself sold only in middling numbers, the song ran up to the top quickly, curiously being the third-straight #1 hit there with a Beatles connection. It followed “Hey Jude” by the Fab Four themselves and “Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin, which was on the Beatles Apple Record label. The song also hit #1 in Switzerland and a few other European countries, but American listeners at the time seemed to want Beatles to be doing their Beatles music. The single only scraped to #68 in the U.S., but soon he’d do better with yet another Beatles cover, “She Came In through The Bathroom Window” which would become his first American top 40 hit. After that North America seemed to go in for his style more than his UK homeland where he wouldn’t have another real hit until 1982 with his Jennifer Warnes duet “Up Where We Belong.

Cocker passed away in 2014, so for better or worse, we won’t be hearing his take on any BTS music.

16 thoughts on “November 9 – Joe Had All The Right Friends

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    If all the Beatle covers that has happened…this one is my favorite. I like both versions because you cannot compare them. Totally different styles…Joe’s version would not have fit in with Sgt Pepper and Ringo’s would not have fit with Cocker. He did a great job on this….as with the music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very interesting spin on it . I hadn’t really thought of it, but that’s valid … it is certainly very different, and that was probably much better than trying to duplicate them , especially so close to the original’s release. (Puts me in mind of Todd Rundgren’s “Good Vibrations”… he does it note perfect, even sings in an almost identical voice… leading to the question “if I wanted to hear the Beach Boys, why wouldn’t I put on the Beach Boys?”)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. badfinger20 (Max)

        I bought the Todd Rundgren version in 76 I believe…I remember red white and blue…so I’m sure it was that year…I didn’t know much about the first one…but later on I thought…whats the point?
        Cocker did a great job on it turning it into his style.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. If your cover can add some nuance, great. Bowie does ‘Sorrow’ pretty close to note for note but his voice is the difference; richer, flexible, deeper. But mostly, what we first hear resonates best and longest.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. yep… it typically sounds “right” to us. Thought of that again this past week when we listened to a Simon & Garfunkel best of here, and ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’, while their original song, sounds a bit “off” to me because I’d heard the Bangles cover of it long before the original. Hence to me, the Bangles seems to be the “real’ one.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. “one trick pony” voice – yeah, that’s rather my thought too. But you and Max make a good point about how he makes songs his own and doesn’t try to merely duplicate the original, which is admirable… especially if you’re tackling a song that’s already a hit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think a lot of people only remember him for “You Are So Beautiful” and that had been nearly 40 years prior . But maybe something big was happening the same day that took most of the news coverage, I can’t remember.

        Like

      2. I don’t know… I’m sure many people do know his 2 big Beatles covers (…Bathroom Window’ and ‘with a little help’) but I think many might not. Either way, it seems like it went somewhat unnoticed. (If memory serves me correctly, I think Mother Theresa died on the same day or within 24h of Lady Di… so what would have been a big front page story – Mo. Theresa – was probably a little ‘by the way’ pg 2 item. There are big news days and slow ones.)

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