The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #257: With A Little Help From My Friends by The Beatles (+) covered by Joe Cocker (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song and going until I reach Song . When you see the song title listed as something like: Song (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #257: With a Little Help from My Friends by The Beatles (+) Covered by Joe Cocker.

“With A Little Help From My Friends” is one of those songs that was great in its’ original form on the famous “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album by “The Beatles” and equally as good when covered and re-worked under the hand of the raspy-throated one, Joe Cocker. It is the mark of a well-written song that it can be played and tweaked and delivered in various ways and always remain awesome to listen to.

The song was originally written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The intention, at the time of writing, was that the song would be sung by Ringo Starr. It was an unwritten rule among the members of The Beatles that Ringo would be given one song to sing on each album. This process resulted in songs like, “Don’t Pass Me By”, “Octopuses Garden” and “Yellow Submarine”. “With A Little Help From My Friends” was the second track on the “Sgt. Pepper” album and ended up being one of the most popular songs to emerge from an album loaded with notable songs such as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “A Day in the Life” and “When I’m Sixty-Four”, among other stellar and innovative tracks. In many ways, “With a Little Help From My Friends” ended up becoming as much Ringo Starr’s signature song as it did, a Beatles song. After The Beatles broke up, Ringo Starr continued to perform and always ended up closing his shows with that song; usually, accompanied by an all-star cast of guest musicians which, on occasion, even included an ex-Beatle or two.

One year after “Sgt. Pepper” came out, “With a Little Help From My Friends” was re-recorded by singer, Joe Cocker” At that time, Cocker was known a more of a cover-singer than he was a singer of original tunes. But, none-the-less, his husky-voiced singing quality gave him a soulful singing sound and helped turn “With a Little Help From My Friends” from a Pop song, as The Beatles had intended, into more of a slower, soul-infused Blues song. Cocker’s version of the song is as powerful, as The Beatles version is playful. It is nothing short of a re-invention of a classic song into something new and fresh and completely his own. More importantly, Joe Cocker got to sing this song at the original Woodstock Music Festival and was recorded doing so as part of the official movie/documentary released about the festival. So, even though this song is definitely a Beatles song, it is the Joe Cocker version that helped shape the soundtrack of the times as “the Summer of Love” was dawning. His version of “With a Little Help From My Friends” also served as the theme for the popular tv show, “The Wonder Years”, too.

Joe Cocker went on to have a few other big hits including, “You Are So Beautiful”, “Up Where We Belong (with Jennifer Warnes)” and one of my all-time favourite songs, “You Can Leave Your Hat On” (from the original motion picture soundtrack to “9 1/2 Weeks”). Joe Cocker has earned Grammy Awards over the course of his career and was nominated to “The Order of the British Empire”. Ironically enough, Cocker has never even been nominated for induction to “The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame”, let alone, inducted. He consistently ranks as one of the Rock Hall’s top omissions.

The Beatles, on the other hand, have done just fine in the aftermath of the release of their song, “With a Little Help From My Friends”. Their legacy as a band of unparalleled creativity and success is often stated as being cemented with the release of a series of tremendously important albums, of which, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is hailed as being one of the best and most innovative of them all. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr still perform regularly to adoring audiences and Starr, in particular, still brings down the house with each rendition of “With a Little Help From My Friends”.

All in all, the story of “With a Little Help From My Friends” is one of the most positive stories in this entire countdown. It remains a song that is tremendously popular in all of its’ iterations; making it a winner for The Beatles, for Joe Cocker and for all of us, as fans. As you may have predicted, I have both videos for you. Please enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “With A Little Help From My Friends” by The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the video of the song, “With A Little Help From My Friends” as recorded live by Joe Cocker, can be found here. ***As covers go, this is one of the best of all-time! Wow! What a star turn for Joe Cocker at Woodstock.

The link to the official website for The Beatles, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Joe Cocker, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for playing the best original and cover versions of all-time. The link to their website can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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