High Time We Went

When I hear a competitor on one of these TV talent shows perform “A Little Help From My Friends,” I always get a little snobby.

You know, there was another band who did this before called The Beatles, I says. Why not perform it straight like Ringo?

But. C’mon. Who am I kidding?

The lilting pipes, the majestic 6/8 time, the big, big Jimmy Page guitar up above, and let’s not forget Madeline Bell, Rosetta Hightower, Sunny Wheetman, and Patrice Holloway lending power and cred*; of COURSE you’re going to do the Joe Cocker version. Of course you are.

You kind of have to.

If you do, you’d better bring it. I call this the “Bill Withers Test,” but it could just as easily be attributed to Joe Cocker, who died today at 70. If you’re going to cover the Grease Band’s version of “Friends,” friends, you had better bring it.

And they rarely do.

Because this song arrangement makes the attack of the song’s first note vital. It is utterly exposed and in a specific place within that quiet pocket of music. Due to that, I think that this arrangement of this song may be one of the most difficult things to do as a singer.

Usher did it okay I guess. But even these seasoned professionals missed their marks.

But this kid just blows it. He floats up to find the pitch. (Not that the judges you know, notice this.)

You need to nail it. Right on the pin. Like John Robert Cocker did.

When I was a kid, my Dad gave me a cassette tape, Joe Cocker’s Greatest Hits. Like many things passed down generationally, I was too young at the time to understand its import. I did eventually listen to it, and my life changed. The best thing on it, the one that sticks with me hardest, is Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain.” The erstwhile Claudine Longet standard gets a badly-needed injection of soul here. It’s brilliant and stands as one of my favorite tracks ever. And I can’t imagine how blessed an experience it would have been to be present in the room when they performed the barn-burner “Cry Me A River.”

One hears the phrase “musician’s musician” from time to time. I suspect that Joe Cocker headed that list. He picked good music and the players with the best chops. He was fabulous, and I adore his music.

* None of these singers were even referenced in the film 20 Feet from Stardom, a highly praised documentary that I found to be a bit lazy, case in point…

P.S. It would be wrong to mention Joe Cocker and not mention Bobby Keys, who also appeared in Mad Dogs and died earlier this month.

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