Monday, December 22, 2014

Cry Me A River as Joe Cocker Has Departed

I don’t often have two posts in a day, but when I do it is usually due to unfortunate news. Earlier today, I heard that 70 year-old Joe Cocker had succumbed from lung cancer. His death occurred in Colorado where he made his home. In 1968, he was propelled into the spotlight with his rendition of The Beatles’ “With A Little Help from my Friends.” While it was a number one record in Britain, it had a dismal showing in US where it only peaked at #68.

His appearance on the stage of Woodstock gained him further notoriety and he entered the Top 40 charts in the US. Some of his biggest hits included the following:
  • His rendition of another Beatles’ album cut, “She Came in through the Bathroom Window” that charted at #30,
  • A cover of The Boxtops number one record from 1967, “The Letter,” that reached #7 in 1970;
  • A rocking version of the 1950s torch song “Cry Me a River,” at #11;
  • His composition with keyboardist Chris Stainton, “High Time We Went,” that charted at #22;
  • A live re-issue of Dave Mason’s “Feeling Alright” that landed at #33. This version did significantly better than the 1968 studio rendition that charted at #69;
  • His cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rambler” that landed at #27;
  • His most popular solo release that charted at #5 – “You are so Beautiful”;
  • A duet with Jennifer Warnes, “Up Where We Belong,” which became his most popular recording and was his only #1 record; and
  • His final Top 40 hit in the US, 1989’s “When the Night Comes.”

Although I am not featuring “Up Where We Belong,” I have a personal connection with this song. As the music director at WCIR-FM in Beckley, WV, I was one of the first programmers in the country to play the record on the air. It was immensely popular in our market; however, it took awhile for other stations to play the tune and for several weeks only a handful of reporting stations had added the song. My gut instinct was correct, and the record peaked at #1 for three weeks. It also won the both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for “Best Original Song.”

Atlantic Records, who was distributing Island Records at the time, promised me a gold record if it sold a million copies. Unfortunately, the record sold slightly under a million and initially failed to have gold status. With sales of it as an oldies release, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the single both as gold and platinum in January 1989. By December that same year, the single was reissued; however, it failed to chart in the US the second time around.

While I am not featuring this tune, I have decided to feature his rocking rendition of the torch ballad “Cry me a River.” Recorded live at the Fillmore East in New York in March 1970, “Cry me a River” was originally a slow tempo, sultry number until Cocker got a hold of it.

The album features a veritable who’s who of the music business. Most notably, Leon Russell is on piano, Don Preston on guitar, and Chris Stainton is playing a Hammond organ. This is a great recording and captures Cocker’s energy. I’ve never had the opportunity to see him live, but have seen his Woodstock footage as well as other videos – and he was the consummate (and very animated) performer. We’ll miss you Joe – Rest in Peace.

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