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Music / Joe Cocker

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Cocker in his late 60s/early 70s heyday.

"What would you do if I sang out of tune?
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song,
And I'll try not to sing out of key."
"With a Little Help from My Friends"

John Robert "Joe" Cocker, OBE (20 May 1944 – 22 December 2014) was a Blues Rock singer, sometimes identified as a British R&B singer. He was most famous for singing in a raspy voice that can reach Large Ham levels for some, but felt passionate at the same time. He was known for his eccentric performance style, making bizarre hand movements on stage. His first hit was "With A Little Help From My Friends" (1968), a cover from The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). He was also one of the more memorable performers at the Woodstock festival in 1969. Over the years he recorded many albums, of which Mad Dogs and Englishmen is the most well known, and hits such as "You Can Leave Your Hat On" (1972), "You Are So Beautiful To Me" (1982) and "Up Where We Belong" (1983). Cocker was predominantly known as a cover artist and a live performer, as he didn't record much material of his own.

Popular culture knows him especially for the use of "Up Where We Belong" as the Bridal Carry scene in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), the striptease during "You Can Leave Your Hat On" in 9½ Weeks (1986), "Love Lives On" (written for Harry and the Hendersons (1987)) and "With A Little Help From My Friends", which was used as the theme song of The Wonder Years.


I get by with a little help from my tropes:

  • Air Guitar: Famously strummed along with his hands during his performance at Woodstock, and beyond. He wanted something to do with his hands.
  • Alliterative Title: His 1982 album "Sheffield Steel".
  • Bicep-Polishing Gesture: He does this on the album cover of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
  • Briefer Than They Think: The Grease Band have been ranked as one of the top British soul bands of the 1960s, and are famous for backing Cocker (e.g. at Woodstock) to the point where they are remembered almost exclusively for being his group... but they only played with him for about three years on two albums, before splitting up because Cocker, at the time, was reluctant to keep touring. When the singer decided to return to the road in 1970, it was with Leon Russell and the Mad Dogs and Englishmen ensemble at his back.
  • Cover Album: Cocker was first and foremost a cover artist, recording little material of his own. Among those were "With A Little Help From My Friends" and "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" (The Beatles), "Feelin' Alright (Traffic), "I Shall Be Released", "Just Like A Woman", "Dear Landlord", (Bob Dylan), "Delta Lady" (Leon Russell), "You Are So Beautiful" (Dennis Wilson and Billy Preston)...
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning and Creator-Preferred Adaptation: After his version of "With a Little Help from My Friends" changed the line "what would you think if I sang out of tune" to "what would you do if I sang out of tune", even Ringo Starr started using the modified lyrics.
  • Harsh Vocals: Cocker always sang in a very raspy voice.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Cocker had a tendency to slur his lyrics out.
  • Large Ham: His slurred way of singing is so over the top that John Belushi even spoofed him in Saturday Night Live.
  • Let's Duet: His duet with Jennifer Warnes for "Up Where We Belong".
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Let's Go Get Stoned", a cover of Ray Charles, made famous in his performance at ''Woodstock in 1969.
  • Oop North: He was from Sheffield, England.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: His cover of "With A Little Help From My Friends" has become more famous and popular than the Beatles original. For fans of The Wonder Years the song has become closely associated with the theme song from that series. "You Can Leave Your Hat On" has become the Standard Snippet for every striptease scene.
  • The Power of Friendship: His most famous hit song, "With A Little Help From My Friends" is a Beatles cover about the power of friendship.
  • Soprano and Gravel: His duet with Jennifer Warnes for "Up Where We Belong".
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: His cover of Randy Newman's "You Can Leave Your Hat On" being used for a striptease scene in the film 9½ Weeks has a lot to do with making that song the Trope Namer.