Up Where He Belongs: What Will We Remember Most About Joe Cocker?


British singer-songwriter Joe Cocker died in his Colorado home this Monday. The blues and rock singer lost the battle with lung cancer at the age of 70, leaving behind twenty-two studio albums.

At the age of 17, Joe started his long and fruitful career: he was working on various jobs during the day and performing in the evenings in his hometown of Sheffield. However, his popularity had a major liftoff with his groundbreaking cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” which was released in 1968, featuring Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin on the lead guitar. The single had gotten exceedingly popular in both Cocker’s home country,, the United Kingdom, and in the United States; this lead to Joe Cocker and The Grease Band playing at the legendary Woodstock festival in 1969.

The version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” performed at Woodstock was and remains one of the most spectacular acts in the festival. It was the beginning of the singer’s distinguishable image as well: a gritty, bluesy voice and distinct body movements on stage. The seven-minute performance apparently made a noticeable impression on The Beatles too, as they allowed Cocker to cover several other songs of theirs on his albums that were to follow, including “Something” and “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”.

What followed was ten years of sensational success for Cocker, which resulted in his severe depression and consequently, drinking and drug problems. Scandals were arising; after getting arrested for drug possession in Australia, he was asked to leave the country. His performances were harshly affected by his addiction problems. As he was sinking deeper into depression he started using heroine; he later kicked the habit but continued to drink heavily. These dark years had a negative impact on his career. However, in 1982, he recorded a duet “Up Where We Belong” with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack of the film An Officer and a Gentlemen; this was to be a turning point for Cocker, as his popularity rose rapidly once again. More hits were to follow, such as “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and “Unchain My Heart”. Cocker continued performing and recording until the end of his life, publishing his last studio album, “Fire It Up”, in 2012.

Despite his enormous success in the entertainment industry, Joe Cocker will be remembered as a kind and modest person, in his later years living a life unaffected by his popularity. Moreover, he remains a peculiar mixture, a white British blues singer. Like other famous white blues singers, he was often confronted with resentment for daring to sing the black man’s music. But, in his own words, this was to show the importance of blues; the genre became so important that it outgrew the African-American race, from where it originated. “Blues are in the back of everybody’s mind,” he said. “Everybody needs an outlet, ’cause no matter what you’ve got in possessions, you’re still up against the wall.”

Joe Cocker is considered to be one of the most influential rock and blues singers of all times; The Rolling Stone ranked him number 97 on their list of 100 greatest singers. He inspired many musicians to come, including Brian Adams and Brian Johnson. But Cocker’s greatest impact was on his audience: Woodstock festival and all its performers were and remain a symbol of a better time, when people were united around a pacifist movement fighting for a better shared future. The hippie subculture may seem like it lost a battle to the cruel reality of the world we live in, but, through the hopeful young people, it will live on forever.

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