Joe Cocker – Joe Cocker!

Despite the fact that this album came out in 1969, and despite the fact that I got into music just a little after Joe Cocker’s heyday, and right about at his commercial peak, I never had any Joe Cocker albums until pretty recently.

Joe Cocker! front cover
Joe Cocker! front cover

I first knew of him not from his Beatles covers or “Feelin’ Alright,” but from his huge 1975 hit “You Are So Beautiful.” It was by far his biggest hit to that date, reaching #5, and it played endlessly on the AM radio stations we listened to. I have an oddly specific memory of it playing, probably several times, on one of those overnight camping trips we sometimes took on an island in the Mohawk River. By “trip,” I mean we shuttled a rowboat across a narrow backwater of the river just behind a friend’s house, and hacked our way into a clearing area where we could set up tents, light a massive fire, and stay up all night chasing each other all over the island like teenage idiots. Why I would specifically remember this song from one of those nights, I couldn’t say, but I do.

After that, I gained some awareness of Cocker, little by little. John Belushi’s impression of him helped keep him in the zeitgeist. Over time, I heard the songs that he had become famous for. Then he had that huge #1 hit that I can’t stand from a movie I didn’t care about. Good for him, but I hated that song. Nothing else new from Cocker caused me to dig any deeper.

Then at some point in the last Great Recession, maybe 2008, starved for new entertainment and going through a bit of a ’70s phase, I somehow became obsessed with seeing “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” the film about the momentous Joe Cocker tour. I’ll talk more about that spectacular mess next time, but for now we’ll just say that once I saw that, I was officially interested in Joe Cocker.

Still, for a long time all I had was a DVD of the movie, which I cut up into audio tracks and stuffed into iTunes. Fast forward another five or six years to our move here and the presence of a neighborhood record store, and I was given the opportunity to make up for a few decades of lost time.

This 1969 album was his second, released just six months after his debut release. Almost entirely covers, it features two songs (as well as performances and arrangements) by Leon Russell, who would become instrumental in Cocker’s legend. This is pure Cocker magic and madness — a crazy white soul approach to songs like “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window” and “Darling Be Home Soon.” It’s pretty great.

Though I’ve only had this a few years, anytime I’m pawing through the collection looking for something to play, if this catches my attention, I will definitely put it on.

Joe Cocker! back cover
Joe Cocker! back cover

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