Joe Cocker’s definitive performance of The Beatles song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ at Woodstock, 1969
Let’s all go back to Woodstock is likely a phrase most who attended would be very glad to hear. The event changed the lives of all those who hitchhiked and plain-old-hiked to the festival site in New York, least of all Joe Cocker. His soulful performance may well have given him his entire career but he did need a little help. That’s where The Beatles come in.
The Fab Four’s song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ was that assistance. The Beatles may well have provided Joe Cocker with the ammunition, but that still left the incredible vocalist to provide the arsenal with which to deliver the earth-shattering and definitive performance of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’.
The song started out life being composed by John Lennon as a song for Ringo Starr but would go on to be a defining anthem of the counterculture movement as it looked to rid the world of aggressive capitalism and fascism. A movement The Beatles weren’t ever really a part of. Instead, it would be the Sheffield born legend, Joe Cocker, that would take the stage at Woodstock and belt out the festival’s untold anthem.
With a gravel-toned voice that was capable of both achieving avalanches and finessing fine marble, Cocker soon became a legend in the blues scene that continued to swirl around London in the late sixties. Though the singer never really composed his own work, he embodied the mind and spirit of each song he covered.
In fact, we’re betting that you’ve never seen anybody perform the way Joe Cocker did, apart from the late great Janis Joplin, of course. Similarly, Cocker was able to empathise with almost every song he performed and during the performance in question would always give himself to the music in totality.
It gained the relative newcomer from the Yorkshire city a spot on the coveted line-up for what would become one of the most iconic music festivals of all time, Woodstock.
True to form, Cocker’s set with his group The Grease Band, would be littered with covers including a few notable renditions of Bob Dylan’s finer work ‘Just Like A Woman’ and ‘Dear Landlord’. As well as a Ray Charles tune and The Coasters’ ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’, the Sheffield singer was providing a captivating set. All classic Cocker stuff so far.
Nothing though would match his closing number, a revamped, rejuvenated and reinvigorated performance of The Beatles’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. With Cocker’s convulsing performance and the band’s soulful command of the song, it transcended from album track to generational anthem.
To this day, six years after his passing, Joe Cocker’s version of the Sgt. Pepper song ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ remains an integral part of his legacy. The Beatles are likely the most covered artist in the world but very rarely do those covers surpass the original. Joe Cocker’s cover certainly did that.
Below we celebrate it by revisiting that very moment he vaulted into stardom.