Posts Tagged ‘Joe Cocker’

‘Do I Still Figure . . .’

Friday, September 14th, 2018

So, following up on last Saturday’s post, we’ve been checking out various versions of the tune we know now as “Do I Still Figure In Your Life.” We start with the original by the Honeybus, titled at the time “(Do I Figure) In Your Life.” Written by Pete Dello of the Honeybus, the tune was released on Deram in 1967:

I notice a couple of things right off the top: The strings – both in the introduction and behind the vocals – remind me strongly of the Left Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” and of some of the things that George Martin was doing with the Beatles. And the diction carries a hint of Bob Dylan. Still, the record sounds very much of its time and is a pleasant listen. And according to the author of a website about the band “(Do I Figure) In Your Life” deserved better than it got in 1967 Britain and “should have been a huge hit but inexplicably missed the charts despite heavy airplay and good reviews.”

(Given that the preceding assessment comes from a fan page, some skepticism is likely in order. But it is a pretty good record and would not have sounded out of place on a U.S. station in, say, October 1967.)

The first to cover the tune, as we learned last Saturday, was British pop singer Dave Berry, whose version, as I noted last week, “was released in 1968 on Decca in the U.K. and on a London promo in the U.S., according to Discogs.” Taking the slightly baroque approach of the Honeybus a little further, Berry started his take on “Do I Still Figure In Your Life” with a harpsichord solo and returned to the instrument in between verses. It’s a sweet version of the tune but – beyond the harpsichord – unremarkable.

Then, as noted last Saturday, came Joe Cocker, whose version was no doubt the first I ever heard of the song. (I was digging into memories in the past few days, and I think I heard Cocker’s version in a dorm room at St. Cloud State sometime during the autumn of 1971, a couple of years after the track came out on Cocker’s 1969 album, With A Little Help From My Friends.)

Picking around in the listing at Second Hand Songs, we’ll dig into the shambling version released by an artist who styled himself Creepy John Thomas. An Aussie, he also called himself Johnny Driver and played with the Edgar Broughton Band, according to Discogs. His take on Pete Dello’s song reverted to the original title, “(Do I Figure) In Your Life” and was included on his 1969 album, Creepy John Thomas:

Then came – as noted last Saturday – Kate Taylor, followed by the occasional revisiting of the song over the years, more frequently in the 1970s and sporadically since then. I ran across a few versions at YouTube that weren’t listed at Second Hand Songs, including a bland version from Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike & The Mechanics) and a sterile version from Norwegian singer Karoline Krüger.

And maybe it’s because it was the first version I ever heard, but I come to the conclusion – having listened to about twenty takes on the song in the last week – that no one does it like Joe Cocker:

Another One Gone

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

They keep falling. Musicians I listened to in my youth – and for many years after, in many cases – are departing more and more frequently from this world.

Yesterday it was Joe Cocker, who passed on at the age of 70 at his Colorado home. Though I don’t think I’ve written much about him – as least not as frequently as I have other performers – Cocker holds a firm place in my list of favorites for a couple of reasons.

First, he was the headline performer at my first Twin Cities rock concert. For Christmas 1971, my sister gave me a hand-made certificate good for two tickets to any concert I wanted to see, and when Joe Cocker scheduled an April concert at the now-gone Met Sports Center, I cashed in the certificate and took Rick down to the show with me.

I’ve noted here before that Cocker’s performance that night was erratic, as frequently was the case in those years. And I guess that’s being kind; he was drunk or high or both, and the first half of the show was ragged. But as the show wore on, Cocker became more focused, and at one point about three-quarters of the way through, the band – with Chris Stainton on piano, I think – tore into the introduction of “Hitchcock Railway,” and for the first time that evening, the Joe Cocker we heard was the Joe Cocker we’d expected to hear.

Here’s the studio version of “Hitchcock Railway” from Cocker’s 1969 album, Joe Cocker!

Then, from the same album, there’s Cocker’s cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Darling Be Home Soon.” From the time I first heard the album – purchased used in the spring of 1972, when I was still in catch-up mode – Cocker’s take on John B. Sebastian’s lovely song has transfixed me.

I had come across Sebastian’s lyric a couple years earlier in a book titled The Poetry Of Rock, in which editor Richard Goldstein offers with brief – sometimes very brief – commentary lyrics that he thought were worthy of more thought than listeners might put into a three- or four-minute record or even a six- or seven-minute album track. The lyrics Goldstein offered the reader ranged widely, from Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl” and Leiber & Stoller’s “Hound Dog” to the Incredible String Band’s “Koeeoaddi There” and the Doors’ “The End.” Even after reading – and liking – the lyric – I’d never sought out the Spoonful’s version of “Darling Be Home Soon,” and the first time I met the song was on the Joe Cocker! album.

The combination of Sebastian’s yearning lyrics and the gospel-tinged joy that Cocker and his mates brought to the track made “Darling Be Home Soon” an anthem for me, one that I heard sometimes with joy, sometimes with despair and now – with both of us home at last – with contentment (though I still tend to play air piano when it shows up coming out of the speakers).

I kind of lost track of Joe Cocker during my college years. I caught up with 1969’s With A Little Help From My Friends and 1970’s raucous Mad Dogs & Englishmen. And then other performers took my attention, and when I went back to Cocker in 1975, I found the over-wrought “You Are So Beautiful” at No. 5, and then nothing much interested me until 1987’s Unchain My Heart, which I still enjoy.

In the past decades, I’ve gone back and checked out the years I skipped, and I’ve kept an ear on more recent releases. I enjoy some of it and find some of it tedious, but even with the stuff I like, something seems lacking. Maybe it’s not so much that the recent music has been flawed as that the first couple years of Cocker’s career were so brilliant that even the best of his later work seems pale. I rest my case on the live performance from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour of “Cry Me A River.”

Revised slightly since original posting.

Sir Frankie Crisp: ‘Let It Roll’

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

So what did we know when the Beatles broke up?

There had been rumors for more than a year, but the news came out of London in the spring of 1970: Paul McCartney announced his departure from the band and then released McCartney, his first solo album, in April, just weeks before the scheduled release of Let It Be, which turned out to be the group’s final album.

To a fan in the American Midwest, one who’d only recently begun to listen seriously to the Beatles, the news was sparse. I’d imagine that my family paid more attention to current events than did a lot of folks in St. Cloud. We subscribed to two daily newspapers and to Time magazine. We listened to the world and state-wide news on the radio as we ate breakfast every morning. We frequently watched the evening news on television. We were about as plugged into current events as folks could be forty years ago. And I remember the dissolution of the Beatles being covered by all of those media: television and radio news, the daily newspapers and Time magazine. About the only additional source available that would have clarified – perhaps – the events was Rolling Stone, a magazine I’d eventually read, but not for a few years. (Newsweek magazine, which at the time seemed a little more tuned into entertainment and the like than was Time, might have given me a bit more information, but only a little, I think.)

But other than adding Rolling Stone to my mix of sources, there were no other places to go for information. I couldn’t click my way to forty-nine different websites for music and entertainment news. I couldn’t walk the remote control up fifty-five channels to see what the various cable outlets had to say. So my friends and I had nothing other than the very basic information that came through those very basic sources.

Beyond a galaxy of information sources that seemed like science fiction forty years ago, today’s media mix also includes the results of research, the release of archives and the revising of history that comes along to every major event as the years pass. We know more now about the events of those years, the Sixties and Seventies, and that includes the end of the Beatles. We know about the bickering during the Get Back sessions in 1969, we know about the hours of unfinished tape essentially laid in the lap of Phil Spector, which he cobbled into the Let It Be album, we know about the Beatles pulling it together to record Abbey Road, and we probably know more now than we really want to know about both the great and dismal portions of that last year of the band’s life.

(I should note here that I like Let It Be as Spector produced it. I recognize its limitations and find the short song jokes and asides a little tedious these days. But it was the first Beatles LP I’d ever bought, and as such it has some value to me. McCartney’s revisiting of the project a few years ago, resulting in Let It Be Naked, is interesting but not all that compelling.)

Anyway, to get out of the thickets and back to where I thought I was going, there were far fewer sources of information about, well, about anything and not just the Beatles back in 1970. And as the year moved on, Rick and I and our pals at his school and mine traded rumors about what would happen next. And we heard in the autumn of 1970 that George Harrison was going to release a three-LP album at the end of the year.

Now, we knew that Harrison had provided one, maybe two songs per Beatles album for years. We had no idea that he could’ve done so much more had he been given the opportunities. (It’s worth keeping in mind, I think, that, as good as many of his compositions turned out to be, Harrison was fighting for album space with the best pair of writers in the history of rock music. It was a tough spot to be in.) Nor did we have any idea that his impending album had been recorded with the same musicians who made up Derek & The Dominos and Delaney & Bonnie’s Friends (with a few other friends thrown in). Not having any information beyond the fact that album, All Things Must Pass, existed, we didn’t know what to think.

We got a preview in early December when “My Sweet Lord” popped up on radio, on its way to No. 1, and we liked what we heard. (We were utterly unaware that Harrison had, evidently accidentally, plagiarized the melody for “My Sweet Lord” from the Chiffons’ 1963 hit, “He’s So Fine.” We’d been nine when the Chiffons’ song was on the radio.) And sometime during December 1970, Rick wound up with a copy of All Things Must Pass.

I borrowed it and taped it, of course, and during the winter of 1970-71, as I played Don Quixote to my Dulcinea, I spent many evenings listening to Harrison’s work. I pretty much ignored the “Apple Jam” that made up the third disc of the three-record set. But the rest of the album became ingrained. I remember now leaving a purple-ink copy of the lyrics to Harrison’s valedictory “All Things Must Pass” in my young lady’s locker. I bought the book of sheet music for the album and began to master “Beware Of Darkness.” And I lost myself in the surreal lyrics of the song that became my favorite on the album:

I still like the song a lot.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 11
“Hitchcock Railway” by Joe Cocker from Joe Cocker! [1969]
“No Time” by the Guess Who, RCA 0300 [1970]
“The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)”  by George Harrison from All Things Must Pass [1970]
“We’re An American Band” by Grand Funk, Capitol 3660 [1973]
“The Circle Is Small (I Can See It In Your Eyes)” by Gordon Lightfoot from Endless Wire [1978]
“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson from Thriller [1983]

I’ve written about most of these songs and/or these artists before, so there are only a few things to say. First, about Grand Funk: I was not a fan during my high school and college years. I recall that one of the guys who’d worked on the lawn-mowing crew during the summer of 1971 loaned me the group’s 1970 album Grand Funk for a few weeks. I was still unimpressed. And I’m not sure that I was all that taken by “We’re An American Band” when it came charging out of the radio speakers in the last weeks of the summer of 1973. I left for Denmark early that September, so I wasn’t around when the record hit No. 1 at the end of the month, and the record was never really a part of my internal soundtrack. But when the song popped up during my sorting for this project, I put it in the keeper pile without a moment’s hesitation. In 2010, “We’re An American Band” sounds a lot better than a lot of things that I thought sounded pretty good in 1973.

“No Time”  is probably my favorite Guess Who record, and the Guess Who was a pretty reliable singles band during my first couple years of Top 40 listening. The record went to No. 5, and I can’t ever hear it without being pulled back to February of 1970: Rick, Rob and I, along with a friend of Rob’s whose name I have lost, are heading to the Twin Cities to see the Minnesota North Stars play the Montreal Canadiens. We expect the North Stars to lose because, well, the Canadiens are the defending Stanley Cup champions. But somehow, the Stars manage a 1-1 tie, and as we drive back to St. Cloud late that evening, we hear “No Time.”

I don’t know whether the video I’ve found of “Billie Jean” is the single or the album track (or if there’s a difference, for that matter). The single spent seven weeks at No. 1 in the Top 40 and nine weeks at the top of the R&B chart. As is true of almost everything else from Thriller, if the song doesn’t make you wanna dance, you might as well be a zombie.

My affection for “Hitchcock Railway” comes from three sources. First, the version that closes Side One of Joe Cocker! still gives chills. Second, when I saw Cocker live in the spring of 1972, he took on “Hitchcock Railway” toward the end of the show, and his performance redeemed what had been to that point a less-than-good concert. Third, I have – through Patti Dahlstrom and this blog – the Internet version of a nodding acquaintance with the song’s writer, Don Dunn, and that’s kind of cool.

I wrote once long ago about my first boss, DQ, and how we staff members at the Monticello Times used to tease him about his affection for the music of Gordon Lightfoot. I joined in the joshing although, had truth been told, I also enjoyed Lightfoot’s music. During my nearly six years at the Times, I gathered in a few Lightfoot albums, and gathered in more as time went on. Many tracks from those albums were candidates for this project; the most difficult to discard were “If You Could Read My Mind” and the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.” Two of Lightfoot’s tracks made it into the final list, and one of those is “The Circle Is Small (I Can See It In Your Eyes),” which went to No. 38 during the spring of  1978. It’s one of the Lightfoot tunes that I first heard in the offices of the Monticello Times.