Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Joe Cocker

  • Joe Cocker! [A&M, 1969] A
  • Mad Dogs and Englishmen [A&M, 1971] B+
  • Joe Cocker [A&M, 1972] B+
  • I Can Stand a Little Rain [A&M, 1974] C
  • Jamaica Say You Will [A&M, 1975] C
  • Stingray [A&M, 1976] C+
  • Joe Cocker's Greatest Hits [A&M, 1977] A-
  • Luxury You Can Afford [Asylum, 1978] C+
  • Sheffield Steel [Island, 1982] B
  • The Best of Joe Cocker [Capitol, 1993] Neither

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Joe Cocker! [A&M, 1969]
Anyone who isn't hip to the world's greatest spastic should get hip--the best rock interpreter, a performer who defies credibility. With Leon Russell aiding Denny Cordell on production, this is even better than the first lp, not as contrived. A

Mad Dogs and Englishmen [A&M, 1971]
An impressive document, but the same overkill (eleven musicians plus nine backup singers) that was so exhilarating live wears a little thick over a double-LP, especially when you compare the four repeats from Cocker's two studio albums--he sings more accurately when nobody's rushing him. I love Leon Russell's guitar raveup on "Feelin' Alright," though. And the New Orleans horn break on "Cry Me a River." And "The Letter." B+

Joe Cocker [A&M, 1972]
Not to be confused with 1969's classic Joe Cocker!, a distinction that gets at the difference quite nicely. It's said that Cocker's voice is gone, and I suppose that's true--it was never much less rough, but it was richer and more flexible. And the live "Do Right Woman" on side two is an overstated embarrassment. But the music on side one, with Chris Stainton providing the same old propulsion on piano as well as--hmm--collaborating with this supposed interpreter-only on some good-to-terrific songs, is as rollicking as ever, and the rest of side two is OK. The magic is gone, that's for sure, but maybe it's gone from us, not from him. B+

I Can Stand a Little Rain [A&M, 1974]
If Jim Price were a producer worthy of the artist, or even of the artist's memory, he would have asked Jerry Lee Lewis to play piano instead of Nicky Hopkins. Not that Jerry Lee could replace Chris Stainton, who combined with Cocker last time to write more good hooks than all of Hollywood's finest coughed up for this make-work project. C

Jamaica Say You Will [A&M, 1975]
Think back to how drastically Cocker's early triumph--"With a Little Help From My Friends" or "Just Like a Woman" or "Darling Be Home Soon" or "Bird on the Wire"--departed from the originals; he literally forced us to rehear those songs. Then compare the strongest cut here, "Lucinda," with Randy Newman's prototype; arrangement and vocal approach are almost identical. That's the nut. Cocker and Leon Russell funkified pop so persuasively that they set up their own minitradition, and now Cocker can't imagine transcending it. C

Stingray [A&M, 1976]
Yeah, the Stuff guys are funkier than the El Lay guys, but on side two you can hardly hear them for the backup singers (I don't mean you, Bonnie). And there are three Matthew Moore ditties, not to mention six and a half minutes of "A Song for You" (at this point I wouldn't sit still for a ninety-second punk version). Genuine high point: "Catfish," Bob Dylan's tribute to a million-dollar man Cocker still says he's never heard of. C+

Joe Cocker's Greatest Hits [A&M, 1977]
Cocker's seven other A&M albums are all depicted--enticingly, I guess is the idea--on the inner sleeve, and sure enough, every one is represented herein. Surprisingly, the past five years hold up pretty well--the vacuousness of "You Are So Beautiful" has always been the song's fault, and there's nothing early I like any better than "Black-Eyed Blues" or "The Jealous Kind." Ray Charles's recent cover of the latter provides some insight into Cocker's uniqueness. Sure I prefer the authentic instrument--every time Cocker hits a high note these days you're afraid it's his last--and Charles's intensity is miraculous. But the boozy, tattered quality of Cocker's voice, as well as the sense that he's about to break into tears, adds a helplessness to his version that Charles couldn't match if he wanted to. A-

Luxury You Can Afford [Asylum, 1978]
This begins encouragingly--Allen Toussaint's "Fun Time" is fun, "Watching the River Flow" worth watching. But neither producer Toussaint nor his Muscle Schoals henchmen can turn Phil Driscoll (who?) into Leon Russell (back when). C+

Sheffield Steel [Island, 1982]
No, his voice isn't shot, though it's certainly lost a lot of soft edges and warm crannies--a lot of phlegm. Partial compensation provided by the decline of L.A.: there are more good songs lying around than at any time since Cocker and Three Dog Night invented interpretive rock way back when. And Sly & Robbie's loud, fast Memphis beat is the toughest backup of his life. B

The Best of Joe Cocker [Capitol, 1993] Neither

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