With the recent sad passing of Joe Cocker I came across his version of The Beatles’ ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ on the radio the other day.
Like most of my generation I first heard this track as the theme song from the tv show The Wonder Years. It has such amazing energy and knocks the original into a cocked hat.
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with ‘the Ringo song’ on a Beatles album. It was always a bit ‘here’s one Ringo can sing for the kids’.
It took Joe Cocker to realise the full potential of the song (it’s a Lennon/McCartney composition dammit – there was always a great song in there). He certainly did get some help from one of his friends with Jimmy Page playing guitar on the track.
The use of dynamics on Cockers version are amazing. The song starts off with a soft church-like noodlings by Tommy Eyre on the organ which are rudely interrupted by the rest of the band as they bang out the chorus chords with Page hitting some unison bends. This quietens down again to Cocker, accompanied by the organ and Chris Stainton’s persistent bass, asking us what we would do if he sang out of tune (you go right ahead Joe, I could listen to that gravelly voice all day, even if it was out of key). Drummer BJ Wilson then executes a fill which is exquisite in its power and simplicity to bring in the chorus (I defy anyone not to play air drums to that bit) and ramp up the volume. The female backing singers hold down the main melody whilst Cocker rasps and rants his way through the choruses (no doubt with arms spasming like a malfunctioning windmill to boot).
On the bridge section the girls ask Joe if he needs anybody. The first time he tells them he “just needs somebody to love”. The second time they ask him, he lets rip with a guttural, throaty roar which bends the needles on the VU meters. We’ll take that as a yes.