RIP Joe Cocker – Why He Was Perfect For The Wonder Years Plus A Forgotten Early 90s Power Ballad

Joe Cocker.

Joe Cocker, what a voice. The news has come through that the soul singer – one of the most distinctive soul / R&B singers England ever produced – has died aged 70 of lung cancer.

I never saw him live but everyone who did during his regular visits to New Zealand always raved about what a concert he put on. Instead my overriding memory of Joe Cocker is through the classic 80s TV show The Wonder Years. Cocker’s blistering, bluesy take on what had originally been the chirpy, Ringo Starr-sung Beatles song With A Little Help From My Friends, was the theme music.

For a coming of age show set in the late 60s / early 70s that was heavy on emotion and the power and fragility of human relationships, Cocker’s impassioned 1968 cover was a perfect fit. Here are those opening credits that take me straight back to my own childhood. Cocker’s vocal is quite staggering:

Ringo Starr has paid tribute, tweeting: “Goodbye and God bless to Joe Cocker from one of his friends, peace and love.” While Paul McCartney has been quoted as saying what a lovely guy Cocker was and how much he loved his voice. Of Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends cover, McCartney had this to say:

“I was especially pleased when he decided to cover With A Little Help From My Friends and I remember him and (producer) Denny Cordell coming round to the studio in Savile Row and playing me what they’d recorded and it was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful for him for doing that.”

Quite righty people will be playing the most famous Cocker songs today and not only With A Little Help, but also Feelin’ Alright, The Letter, You Are So Beautiful, Up Where We Belong, You Can Leave Your Hat On etc. But I want to highlight another song and one that was only a modest hit in the early 90s when Cocker was having a real resurgence in popularity. I knew the song was written by Diane Warren – the melody of this power ballad is so huge you can tell on one listen. What I didn’t know was that Bryan Adams was the co-writer. And as for Joe Cocker, he just did what he always did best: interpret a great song and turn it into something greater.

RIP Joe Cocker. This is Feels Like Forever:

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