Thursday, June 29, 2017

I Will Try Not To Sing Out Of Key

I'm not done with celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band just yet.
Many of the songs on Sgt. Pepper were soon subjected to cover versions, and the LP is known for having yielded many lackluster covers even before the Sgt. Pepper movie's release in 1978.  But the album's second song led to one of the best Beatles covers ever.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote "With a Little Help From My Friends" to give Ringo Starr a song for the Sgt. Pepper album, and it was a song in the form of a conversation between a man who needs someone to love and the friends who help him get by . . . and get high, the apparent marijuana reference leading U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew in 1970 to propose a ban on the song nationwide.  As originally recorded by the Beatles, "With a Little Help From My Friends" is a rather polite, playful tune, and Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66's cover was similarly mannered.  Then a little-known English blue-eyed soul singer took the song and turned it into a genuine rock number.
Joe Cocker was an up-and-coming singer in the late 1960s.  Influenced by Ray Charles, he indulged his raw talent for singing black American blues and delivered songs in everything from a tender plea to a lecherous barroom growl.  He appended both of these styles to his gutsy cover of "With a Little Help From My Friends," the title track of his 1969 debut album, with some strong, throaty declarations of persistence, improvised sentiments not found in the original lyrics ("I tell ya, I don't get sad no more") and some incredible hollers of transcendence - all backed with a slow-blues arrangement in 6/8 meter and with different chords in middle eight, performed with Procol Harum drummer B.J. Wilson's heavy playing, Tommy Eyre's soulful organ, and - the icing on the cake - guitar lines from Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.  It is the rare example of a Beatles cover being superior to the original Beatles recording.
Play the Cocker version below and hear for yourself. :-)
Through his performance of "With a Little Help From My Friends" at Woodstock and its exposure on FM rock radio, Joe Cocker took his place as one of rock's greats.  Thanks to his friends, the Beatles. ;-)   

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