“one of the truly great rock voices of all time”
England’s sorest voice ever John Robert Cocker was born in Sheffield on May 20, 1944. He started off as Vance Arnold with a background group called The Avengers, originally as a drummer, but then discovering singing and drumming at the same time was not an easy job. They performed rock and roll songs at night in the Sheffield pubs, also providing the support act to The Rolling Stones at their visit to the metal workers’ city in 1963. Daytime gas fitter Cocker recorded his first 45 single, covering the Beatles’ I’ll Cry Instead, but the new-born artist was never busy with getting successful.
Yet his fame rocketed when Cocker formed the Grease Band and, at the end of 1968, reached number one in the UK with another Beatles’ cover, A Little Help From My Friends. America fell for the British singer after appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and Woodstock in 1969, causing Life Magazine to illustrate Cocker like this:
“The voice of all those blind criers and crazy beggars and maimed men who summon up a strength we'll never know to bawl out their souls in the streets”
At Woodstock, Cocker performed A Little Help From My Friends wonderfully. Almost out of the blue, his exceptional, already tortured voice and his almost spastic stage-moves generated world fame.
The fame did not make Cocker’s life any happier. At the end of the year, the exhausted singer was disillusioned with the rock business, but continued to make top songs and albums in – what the experts later called – his darkest years. Right in this shadowy period, the British rocker produced some of his best work with Guilty, The Moons A Harsh Mistress and my all-time Cocker favourite You Are So Beautiful. Both on- and off-stage alcohol and cocaine abuse not only caused a physically wrecked body and mind, but also reduced his powerful voice into a jagged rasp. (He got busted for smoking pot already in 1968 by the way). Cocker himself later spoke openly about his problems, for example around the first performance of You Are So Beautiful in Los Angeles:
“Somebody should have kept an eye on me, but some dealer found me backstage and filled me up with cocaine. I hadn't performed live in a couple of years. I drank a whole bottle of brandy, and then went out there and got through two songs, and then I sat down on stage with a total mental block to all the words. It was rather embarrassing. Everyone just sort of closed the curtain and said good night. That was supposed to be my return.”
After this US Top Ten romantic ballad in 1975, it was silent again for a long time. Yet Cocker returned amazingly with the top-chart duet Up Where We Belong at the side of Jennifer Warnes in 1983. Clearly the success of the song had also a lot to do with it being the theme of the popular Richard Gere movie An Officer and a Gentleman. Cocker appeared at the Oscars ceremony where the movie won two prizes, one of it in the category “Best Music, Song” for Up Where We Belong. The song also won the film various other important awards, such as a Golden Globe and a British Academy Award. It also meant Joe Cocker’s first number one hit in the United States.
From this period on, Cocker’s personal and commercial life started to change for the better. He married his wife Pam in 1987 and brought out three flourishing platinum albums (Cocker, Unchain My Heart and One Night Of Sin). The title song of the second album got the artist another major hit. Even in the nineties he managed to reach the hit lists with some efforts, but the holy fire now seems to have vanished. Cocker appears to have left for a steady life with some occasional concerts.
Before I present you his full album discography, you’re hassled here with his Greatest Hits track list, which indeed seems to give a fine overview of Cocker’s musical highlights:
Joe Cocker’s albums: