Joe Cocker didn’t really play an instrument. But the Sheffield-bred singer, who died Dec. 21 at the age of 70, had a voice that rattled pubs, stages, halls, and stadiums across multiple decades. From his legendary performance at the 1969 Woodstock concert to his recent 2014 European tour, Cocker electrified audiences with his soulful songs and magnetic stage presence.
“With a Little Help From My Friends,” at Woodstock, 1969: Cocker won over the crowd with his rendition of the Beatles classic, making him an immediate rock star. His version of the song would arguably become more famous, especially after it became the theme song for The Wonder Years TV show. Cocker returned to the site of his greatest triumph in 1994, and performed at the 25th anniversary concert.
“Something’s Coming On,” at Woodstock:
“Something,” 1969: Paul McCartney and George Harrison so admired what Cocker had done with “With a Little Help” that they allowed him to record several of their other hits. “Something” and “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” appeared on his second album, Joe Cocker!, which came out in the fall after Woodstock.
“Delta Lady,” 1969: Cocker covered Leon Russell’s song after the two began performing together, and his rendition quickly became a hit.
“Cry Me a River,” early 1970s: Everyone has recorded a version of this standard, from Ella Fitzgerald to Barbra Streisand, but as always, Cocker brought his own personality and made it a rollicking ditty.
“The Letter,” approx. 1970. The Box Tops 1967 smash hit the charts again when Cocker covered the song on his Mad Dogs & Englishmen live album.
ARMS Charity all-star concert in New York, 1983:
(5:35, “Don’t Talk to Me”; 9:52, “Watching the River Flow”; 13:35, “Worried Life Blues”; 17:55, “You Are So Beautiful”; 22:12, “Seven Days”; 27:15, “Feelin’ Alright”; 1:53:00 “With A Little Help From My Friends”)
“Feelin’ Alright,” with John Belushi on Saturday Night Live, 1976: Cocker’s unique on-stage mannerisms were ripe for parody, and Belushi started imitating him even before he became a star on SNL. When Cocker appeared on the show, their duet had the whole country laughing. Paul McCartney called up Belushi’s manager and offered $6,000 for the actor to perform as Cocker at his birthday party.
“You Are So Beautiful,” approx. 1987: Cocker’s slow-down-ballad cover of Billy Preston’s 1974 song became a hit the following year.
“Up Where We Belong,” with Jennifer Warnes, approx. 1983: The duet became Cocker’s most popular hit, in part because of the box-office clout of the film, An Officer and a Gentleman. “Up Where We Belong” won the Oscar for Best Song in 1983.
“When the Night Comes,” approx. 1992
“Across the Universe,” from Julie Taymor’s 2007 film