Joe Cocker’s set is another one of those career-defining moments from Woodstock, in this case both for better and worse.
Woodstock was Cocker’s big break in the United States. He had a minor hit here in 1968 with “Marjorinne,” but his 1969 US tour in support of his latest album is what landed him on music’s most legendary stage. I can’t find the citation, but I swear that I remember hearing Woodstock producer Michael Lange say that he’d only heard Cocker prior to the show, and thus was surprised to be introduced to a 25 year-old Brit rather than an old black soul singer. Forgive my shoddy journalism on that point, and if you find that reference somewhere please let me know.
Regardless, that story is easy to believe. Even at that young age Cocker’s voice was pure, weathered soul. Joe’s take on “With A Little Help From My Friends” is easily one of the most iconic moments from the festival, but his whole set is brilliant. Some of the songs haven’t held up too well (“Something’s Coming On,” “Let’s Go Get Stoned”), but even where the material is dated the performance is timeless.
So that’s the good news. On the downside, Joe’s disheveled appearance and spastic air guitar led to decades of jokes and parodies, most famously by John Belushi in the early days of Saturday Night Live. Not every singer can be a bronzed, ripped golden god like Roger Daltrey, cut the guy a break.
Cocker was supposed to be the first performer on Sunday’s bill, but time management and Woodstock are not two terms that go together well. By the time Joe and the Grease Band finally hit the stage around two in the afternoon, Creedence, Joplin, Sly, and The Who already had put in time on Sunday, August 17.
The Grease Band – why don’t these guys get any love in Woodstock lore? Even on the day of the event announcer John Morris added them as an afterthought: “Ladies and gentleman, Mr. Joe Cocker – let’s go for Sunday! (pause) And the Grease Band!”
But they were no afterthought. The Grease Band was a tight, bluesy unit as good as they come. They put together two albums post-Cocker — 1971’s The Grease Band and 1975’s Amazing Grease that are must-listens. Here’s a taste:
The most complete version of Cocker’s Woodstock set can be found on the CD Joe Cocker: Live at Woodstock, though sadly it does not include the two Grease Band-only tracks. Here’s Joe’s and the Grease Band’s complete Woodstock set list, all available on the aforementioned CD except where indicated:
- Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring (Grease Band only, unavailable)
- 40,000 Headmen (Grease Band only, unavailable)
- Dear Landlord
- Something’s Coming On
- Do I Still Figure In Your Life
- Feelin’ Alright
- Just Like A Woman
- Let’s Go Get Stoned
- I Don’t Need No Doctor
- I Shall Be Released
- Hitchcock Railway
- Something to Say
- With A Little Help From My Friends
Your official Woodstock soundtrack song count to date: 147
Next week: Country Joe and the Fish
<<< Back to Jefferson Airplane
Update: On August 2, 2019, Rhino Records released Woodstock – Back to the Garden: The Definitive 50th Anniversary Archive and changed the game forever. With exception to two Hendrix tracks and one Sha Na Na cut, the massive box set contains complete sets from every Woodstock artist—even those long believed lost or never recorded.
Here is Joe Cocker and the Grease Band‘s set as it appears on the Back to the Garden archive, including announcements, etc.:
1. Max Yasgur – “I think you people have proven something to the world”
2. John Morris and The Grease Band – “Now is the time!”
3. ROCKHOUSE [The Grease Band]
4. WHO KNOWS WHAT TOMORROW MAY BRING [The Grease Band]
5. “That farming guy who came out, he seemed a nice little bloke”
6. DEAR LANDLORD
7. SOMETHING’S COMING ON
8. DO I STILL FIGURE IN YOUR LIFE
9. “An English variation on somebody’s head-bashing tune”
10. FEELIN’ ALRIGHT
11. “A ballad of Grecian quantity”
12. JUST LIKE A WOMAN
13. LET’S GO GET STONED
14. I DON’T NEED NO DOCTOR
15. “Just shows you what you can do with a few shillelaghs”
16. I SHALL BE RELEASED
17. HITCHCOCK RAILWAY
18. SOMETHING TO SAY
19. WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
20. John Morris, Barry Melton, audience & rainstorm – “Maybe we can stop this rain”
Categories: Music, record collecting
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