Joe Cocker: With a Little Help From My Friends

It looks like today is the anniversary of Cocker’s version of With a Little Help From My Friends performed at Woodstock.

I hate it and I have no idea why it’s considered an iconic song. It wasn’t the worst performance at Woodstock but it barely ranks above Sha Na Na, in my opinion.

With a Little Help From My Friends works perfectly on the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album. The first three tracks feature the rocking Sgt Pepper sung by Paul, the pop With a Little Help From My Friends sung by Ringo, and then the psychedelic Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds sung by John. Typical of mid and late Beatles, each album track is a different genre. The Ringo version is fine and it works well as the two song medley with Sgt. Pepper.

I’m not sure what Cocker was thinking. I guess some people like his version, but I can’t at all agree that it’s even remotely as good as Ringo’s album version.

I never liked it either. Cockers voice is just irritating to me. The song is super simple. I think Lennon/McCartney wrote simply for Ringo. He has little vocal range, it seems.

Exactly, it’s a perfect simple song in between the complex Sgt.Pepper with all the horns and the psychedelic Lucy. With a Little Help From My Friends could have been done live at the Cavern, although I don’t think they’d have a line about getting high in 1962!

Some of the best cover versions are those that use the original as a framework to create something completely different: Ike and Tina Turner’s Proud Mary; Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower; the late great Aretha Franklin’s Respect. I think Cocker’s With a Little Help fits into this category.

I quite like it, but of course you don’t have to. Though I don’t think it’s fair to compare it head-to-head with the Beatles. Apple and Orange.

There is a youtube video, captioned in the form of misheard lyrics, that is quite funny.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcLnuEpQ1yg&list=UUfG1QqGOv5UBu0gtm_7nLqg

Cocker’s version is actually the version I heard first, as the theme song to “The Wonder Years.” It wasn’t until many years later that I got into the Beatles and heard Ringo’s take. It was actually a couple years after that before I realized it was the same song.

So for me, it’s almost like two different songs. I like them both, but they’re just different.

One of the books about Woodstock (probably “Barefoot in Babylon”) talks about how one of the organizers was very impressed with Cocker’s singing style, mastering a lot of what Ray Charles did. Cocker, and quite a few others, were largely unknown to American audiences 49 years ago, It also follows poignant moment on the album when the P.A. man talks about it being a free festival and that you should look out for the person next to you.

What do you have against Sha Na Na?

The the one time I saw Joe Cocker I went up to the top row to smoke some marijuana. You could see The Gleam from his diamond ring all the way at the back row. I have never noticed anything like that since.

I adore the Beatles, but I’m actually one of those people who prefers Joe Cocker’s take on that song. I actually love his voice and approach to his covers, but I can see how maybe it’s … I dunno … maybe too histrionic or over-stylized for some people?

Now that’s funny!

I was there, and Sha Na Na wasn’t the worst act. Maybe Mountain or Quill.

Wot? No reference to John Belushi?
In tandem

Indeed! I am thinking they must be as jealous as I am of how they looked in gold lamé. But, maybe I’m projecting.

Yeah, I like the Beatles fine, but that’s a kind of forgettable song in its original incarnation. It’s nice enough, but I couldn’t see myself pulling out the record for it.* Cocker’s version is enough for me to actually watch some Woodstock footage. He’s not a better songwriter, but he out-did the Beatles with his re-working of the song.

*But then again, the only song I really would pull my copy out for is “A Day In the Life”. So it goes.

The poll came out pretty damn close.

FWIW in the last few decades, I’ve heard Cocker’s version WAY more frequently on classic rock stations than the Beatles’ original.

The first time I heard the song was in late 1968. As I recall, he appeared on a UK saturday evening variety programme, I forget which show, but it was very popular.
I guess he was promoting his new single and he came on and performed ‘With a Little Help’ which made a huge impression. So much so, that I think he came back on the following week and did it again! And the song shot to #1 in the UK charts…

Their TV show.

To be fair …

They were originally quite crude. Spitting on the audience, cursing out hippies, etc. Then they got sanitized for TV. Almost like two different groups.

Anyway. Cocker. I think it was about the performance. How he looked doing it. How well that went with the raspiness, etc.

I saw Sha Na Na around 1972. There was none of that, and it was long before they showed up on TV. When they started, you rarely heard any songs from the 50s on the radio; they performed them with affection and panache.

Cocker’s version of “Little Help” is a great one. Ringo sang the song, Cocker made it into an emotional plea.

Okay I can go with that. I prefer Ringo’s version to Cocker’s, but yeah Cocker’s is, as you say, an emotional plea.