February 19, 2014

101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes 45: Joe Cocker ~ With a Little Help from My Friends

reel-to-reel tape album cover detail
photo by Martin Keeley
detail photo by Styrous®

I have hundreds of reel-to-reel, pre-recorded tapes in addition to my 20,000 Vinyl LP collection I'm selling (link below). Interested? Contact me by email please, not by a comment.

 reel-to-reel tape album cover
Tom Wilkes: Album Design
  album cover photo by Martin Keeley
photo of album cover by Styrous®

This was Joe Cocker's first album; it was released in 1969. The line up on the album featured a who's who of music with an amazing array of talent (personnel list below).

Bye, Bye Blackbird is my favorite song on this album. It was composed by Ray Henderson and lyricist Mort Dixon in 1926 and was first recorded by Gene Austin that same year. It was the #16 song of 1926 according to Pop Culture Madness. There is speculation about the meaning of the song. At least two commentators (using the same source) attribute the song to a prostitute's leaving the business and going home to her mother (lyrics below). House of the Rising Sun, a traditional folk song, has the prostitute return to the business.

Reason it's my favorite. When I was 19 I worked at a business firm in the financial district. After work I would go with some of the women in the office to a banjo bar, The Crazy Horse, on Market Street near Valencia. On a certain day of the week, can't remember which, it was Ladies Night and they served huge pitchers of beer for 50¢ to the ladies (it was a buck for the dudes) and all the unshelled peanuts you could eat for free (living was affordable in the '50's and '60's). The shells were just tossed on the floor, which I thought was pretty cool. Years later, the California state court ruled that ladies' night discounts are unlawful gender discrimination under state and local statutes. Too bad as it did bring out all the fun-loving girls! I lost my 'innocence' on one of those banjo nights with an 'older' woman (she must have been all of 35 or 40).

Back to the point of all this, we had a great old time drinking beer and singing along with the banjo band that had who knows how many banjo players. Inevitably, one of the songs played would be Bye, Bye Blackbird and it became one of my favorite songs back then. Cocker's version is nothing like the one we sang; ours was a bouncy and raucous rendition, his is more in the vein of a spiritual/soul song but any version of it brings back good memories. "It Was a Very Good Year".

 reel-to-reel tape album cover back
Tom Wilkes: Album Design
  photos by Eric Hays & Herb Greene
photo of album cover back by Styrous®

Cocker was born, John Robert Cocker, on 20 May 1944 at 38 Tasker Road, Crookes, Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire. According to differing family stories, Cocker received his nickname of Joe either from playing a childhood game called Cowboy Joe or from a local window cleaner named Joe. Cocker's main musical influences growing up were Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan.

In 1961, under the stage name, Vance Arnold, Cocker continued his career with a new group, Vance Arnold and the Avengers. The name was a combination of Vince Everett, the character Elvis Presley portrayed in Jailhouse Rock, (which Cocker misheard as Vance) and country singer Eddy Arnold. The group mostly played in the pubs of Sheffield, performing covers of Chuck Berry and Ray Charles songs.

 reel-to-reel tape album cover back detail
Tom Wilkes: Album Design
  photos by Eric Hays & Herb Greene
detail photo by Styrous®

Cocker's cover of The Beatles' With a Little Help from My Friends reached number one in the UK in 1968, and he performed the song live at Woodstock in 1969. The recording features lead guitar from Jimmy Page, drumming by BJ Wilson, backing vocals from Sue and Sunny, and Tommy Eyre on organ. The single made the Top Ten on the British charts, remaining there for thirteen weeks and eventually reaching number one, on 9 November 1968. It also reached number 68 on the US charts.

Wih a Little Help from My Friends  was certified gold in the US and peaked at No. 35 on the Billboard 200. It has been inducted into both the Grammy Award Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

On the 3rd of June, 2002, Cocker performed With A Little Help From My Friends accompanied by Phil Collins on drums and Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen, at the Party at the Palace concert in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. It was an event to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II. Other performers included: Paul McCartney, Bryan Adams, Keith Airey, Atomic Kitten, Dame Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett, Blue, Emma Bunton, Eric Clapton, The Corrs, Ray Cooper, Ray Davies, Dame Edna Everage, Tony Iommi, J'anna Jacoby, Elton John, Tom Jones, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Annie Lennox, Ricky Martin, Ozzy Osbourne, Mark Andrew-Brydon, Mis-teeq, Cliff Richard, S Club 7, Rod Stewart, Will Young, Ruby Wax, Belinda Carlisle, Brian Wilson, Steve Winwood, Tony Vincent and Hannah Jane Fox.

 reel-to-reel tape
photo by Styrous®

interesting stuff about the lyrics to Blackbird from
The Straight Dope

The opening verse and the verses about the bluebird are rarely sung. Eddie Cantor, Carmen McCrae, Frank Sinatra and others who have recorded "Bye Bye Blackbird" have only sung the chorus:

    Pack up all my care and woe,
    Here I go singing low:
    Bye, bye, blackbird

According to The Straight Dope, the verses of the 1926 song written by Ray Henderson (melody) and Mort Dixon (lyrics) are far less known. Here is the first of the two "missing" verses:

    Blackbird, blackbird singing the blues all day
    Right outside of my door.
    Blackbird, blackbird why do you sit and say
    There's no sunshine in store?
    All through the winter you hung around.
    Now I begin to feel homeward bound.
    Blackbird, blackbird gotta be on my way
    Where there's sunshine galore.

 Whoever the singer is, he/she is tired of whatever they've left home for and want to make a prodigal return, referred to in the second verse:

    Bluebird, bluebird, calling me far away
    I've been longing for you.
    Bluebird, bluebird, what do I hear you say?
    Skies are turning to blue, I'm like a flower that's fading here,
    Where ev'ry hour is one long tear.
    Bluebird, bluebird this is my lucky day.
    Now my dreams will come true.

A huge debt to The Straight Dope for this; 
check out their site, they've got other good stuff.


 reel-to-reel tape label detail
 detail photo by Styrous®

Track list:
Side one
  1. "Feeling Alright" (Dave Mason) – 4:10
  2. "Bye Bye Blackbird" (Ray Henderson, Mort Dixon) – 3:27
  3. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" (Gloria Caldwell, Sol Marcus, Bennie Benjamin) – 4:41
  4. "Marjorine" (Joe Cocker, Chris Stainton) – 2:38
  5. "Just Like a Woman" (Bob Dylan) – 5:17
Side two
  1. "Do I Still Figure in Your Life?" (Pete Dello) – 3:59
  2. "Sandpaper Cadillac" (Joe Cocker, Chris Stainton) – 3:16
  3. "Change in Louise" (Joe Cocker, Chris Stainton) – 3:22
  4. "With a Little Help from My Friends" (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – 5:11
  5. "I Shall Be Released" (Bob Dylan) – 4:35


Links to Joe Cocker songs on YouTube:

reel-to-reel listings on eBay

Styrous® ~ Wednesday, February 19, 2014

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