Sometimes musicians aren’t the wide-reaching songsmiths you would hope they could be. Stevie Ray Vaughan was one hell of a guitar player, arguably one of the best ever, but could he match the songwriting knowledge of The Rolling Stones own riffmaster, Keith Richards? Not a chance. The same can certainly be said for the smoothest voice in Sheffield, the wondrous and seriously talented, Joe Cocker.
In the middle of the explosive creative zenith of the 1960s, Cocker wasn’t a songwriter by trade. Where other artists can flourish with a pen in their hand, transferring their personal expression into universal anthems and back again, Cocker remained largely mute in the arena. But, when you gave the late, great Sheffield born singer a microphone and a decent song to sing, my word, was he captivating.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say he may well be the finest covered of songs there ever was. While he could lend his hand to any song and transform it, it was Cocker’s appreciation of the Fab Four that really gained him notoriety. While The Beatles are likely the most covered artist to have graced this earth, it takes a special kind of talent to improve upon the original considering how close to perfection that they consistently flew. Yet, Cocker did just that, and even Paul McCartney was in awe at the justice he did to their material.
Whenever Joe Cocker took the stage, he produced a morphine-like swell of acceptance that would swell and wash over his audience, sedating them with his imperious vocal performances and holding their hands as he took them to musical heaven.
Cocker became a sensation following his remarkable performance at Woodstock, more on that later, and continually toured and released records throughout his career. McCartney said after his death in 2014, “Joe was a lovely northern lad who I loved a lot, and like many people, I loved his singing. I was especially pleased when he decided to cover ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’.
“I remember him and Denny Cordell coming round to the studio and Saville Row and playing me what they recorded. It was just mind-blowing. He totally turned the song into a soul anthem, and I was forever grateful to him for doing that.”
Below, we’re bringing you our favourite Joe Cocker’s covers of The Beatles.
Joe Cocker’s best Beatles covers:
6. ‘She Came in Through the Bathroom Window’
There are quite a few Beatles covers in Cocker’s repertoire and the singer doesn’t disappoint whether it is one of the band’s A-list numbers or, like this one, a slightly lesser song. Written about the moment a fan broke into Paul McCartney’s home, the songwriter delivers a catchy and crooning track.
“That’s Paul’s song. He wrote that when we were in New York announcing Apple, and we first met Linda. Maybe she’s the one that came in the window. I don’t know; somebody came in the window,” said Lennon of the song.
5. ‘I’ll Cry Instead’
Released in 1964, Cocker took the track into better places than The Beatles ever did. Lennon told David Sheff of the track: “I wrote that for A Hard Day’s Night, but Dick Lester didn’t even want it. He resurrected ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ for that sequence instead. I like the middle eight to that song, though – that’s about all I can say about it.”
However, there is something pure and characterful about Cocker’s version of the song. His soulfully smooth vocal tone adds some velvety brilliance to this Beatles number.
‘Something’ is George Harrison’s magnum opus with The Beatles, and there’s no denying the beauty of the original. However, Cocker’s soulful vocal capabilities had a whole new dimension to the track, and you feel the pain that emits from his smoky drawls.
At the time when Harrison wrote the song in 1969, he wasn’t fulfilled with his junior position in The Beatles, and he even offered it to Cocker before the band because he assumed that they’d turn it down. Much to Harrison’s surprise, ‘Something’ was selected as an A-side from Abbey Road, and Cocker’s version soon followed.
Engineer Ken Scott later speculated about Harrison’s decision to offer the track to Cocker, “I think he was totally confident about the songs. The insecurity may have been, if the Beatles kept going, ‘How many songs am I going to be able to get on each album?’, and with the backlog sort of mounting up … [to] get it out there, and get something from it.”
3. ‘Come Together’
If Tina Turner’s voice fits the bill, then it only stands to reason that Joe Cocker’s rasping Yorkshire tones would do just the same. Having previously bettered The Beatles with his version of ‘With a Little from My Friends’, he set out to do the same one more.
This time, however, he set about it in a more eclectic manner. This song has a Tom Waits-styled jazzy vibe to it celebrating in the sparsity of the original effort. It might not have the same walloping energy of the original, but it is testimony to the track that even in 2007 people were finding new ways to mould it.
2. ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’
Where else could we start but with this definitive cover of The Beatles classic ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’.
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 the track.
1. ‘Let It Be’
There isn’t exactly a drought surrounding The Beatles most famous song of all, ‘Let It Be’. The song has been officially covered hundreds, if not thousands, of times. The song Paul McCartney famously wrote after being visited by his deceased mother in a dream has not only been covered an inordinate amount of times but butchered an almost equal number. However, if there was one man who could take the track into the promised land, it was always going to be Joe Cocker.
Released as a single in 1981, Cocker’s version of the track stays relatively true to the original arrangement — sparse and subtle. But, what most people don’t have when covering the song is the deepest pits from which to drag out the soulful croon that permeates the airwaves as soon as the needle drops.
It’s powerful, potent and about as perfect as a cover can get.