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(Credit: A & M Records)


Watch Joe Cocker play ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ before Woodstock

Joe Cocker had already redefined and reshaped The Beatles’ classic track ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ before he ever took the stage at the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969. The performance was a revelation to American audiences, most of whom had no idea who Cocker was, but the singer had already made his mark in his home country by that point.

Cocker’s studio version of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ was first recorded in 1968, only a year after the original Beatles version first appeared on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Cocker surrounded himself with some of the best journeymen musicians for the session, including Procol Harum drummer B. J. Wilson, organist Tommy Eyre, and a young session guitarist by the name of Jimmy Page.

It was this recording of the song that made Cocker a mainstream star in the UK. After spending months in the top ten of the UK Singles Chart, Cocker’s take on ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ finally rose all the way to number one during the second week of November 1968. Cocker had a major hit on his hands and quickly returned to the studio with an all-star lineup of players, including Steve Winwood, Tony Visconti, Henry McCullough, Albert Lee, and even Wrecking Crew bassist Carol Kaye.

Even though the With a Little Help From My Friends album was finished in the early months of 1968, it wasn’t released until Cocker began his first tour of the US in the spring of 1969. He had been gigging around Europe for years at that point with his backing group, The Grease Band, but now that he had a chart-topping hit, Cocker was beginning to make more large-scale appearances for the first time.

That included television spots, giving Cocker his first visibility across Europe. One of those appearances was at the legendary West German programme Beat-Club, the same show where fellow Englishmen like The Small Faces and The Spencer Davis Group had boosted their profiles in mainland Europe.

The Cocker that appears on Beat-Club is slightly different from the one that would become legendary during his Woodstock appearance. He’s clean-shaven, dressed in non-hippie clothes, and doesn’t gesticulate nearly as much as he would in later years. There are still some prominent movements, but Cocker is a lot more restrained – perhaps he’s nervous about appearing on TV, or maybe the atmosphere of the studio didn’t move him as much as large-scale concerts did.

Check out Cocker’s performance of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ on Beat-Club in 1968 down below.