Friday, April 6, 2012

Joe Cocker--The Letter (1970)

     Joe Cocker brings a good example of what I think is a problem with oldies radio today. The two songs that you hear mostly from him is "Up Where We Belong" (1982), and "You Are So Beautiful" (1975). Both songs have their charms I suppose, but they also are the definition of "lite rock", and miss the songs that truly defined him as one of rock's distinctive voices.
     Cocker had been singing in bands from 1961 to 1968, when going solo, he covered, "With a Little Help From My Friends", which easily became one of the best Beatle covers ever. His debut album, along with a landmark gig at Woodstock pushed him to the forefront of rock's elite.
     Early in 1970, Cocker was going on a promotional tour, and gathering a group of 30 to surround him, took "The Mad Dog and Englishmen" tour on the road. Described as "one big party", the group traveled to 48 cities and over a two day set in March at the Fillmore East in New York recorded an album that would be released in August. "The Letter" would be on that album.
     The song itself had been a bit hit for The Box Tops in August 1967 (the story of that recording is one that deserves it's own blog). In this group's hands however, it became a rip roaring gospel/blues shouter propelled by the piano of Leon Russell and a devastating rhythm section. The song broke Cocker through to a much wider audience and became his first top 10 hit.
     He would have greater success, and songs with much wider appeal. But for me, this is not only his best single, but one of the best singles of all time.



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