In my mind, Joe Cocker and John Belushi will always be linked.
When I started watching Saturday Night Live at age 9, Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo were the show’s biggest stars. The following year, Jim Belushi joined the cast. My mother was partial to the early years of SNL, of course, and talked about how much funnier those guys were. She especially loved John Belushi and Gilda Radner. I had become aware of John Belushi before his brother joined the show, because he had died only about a year earlier. I remember hearing about his Orthodox funeral; being Orthodox, our family always took special interest in Orthodox celebrities.
When I was in junior high school a local channel started playing condensed versions of episodes from those early years, so I got to see what my mother was talking about. I saw John Belushi in all his glory as the Samurai, Marlon Brando, and Joe Cocker. I had seen Woodstock a few times, so I knew who Joe Cocker was and what an interesting stage presence he commanded. John’s impression was so stunning, I thought it was Joe Cocker. Apparently, Joe himself thought John was lip-syncing to his records.
Joe was still recording in the 80s, and “You Can Leave Your Hat On” was one of my favorites at the time. And of course, his version of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” was the theme to The Wonder Years, which was one of the favorite TV shows in our house.
I rarely like covers, and I really don’t like when people sing Beatles songs, but Joe could take any Beatles number and really make it his own. They don’t even sound like the same songs when he put his foot in them!
And Joe’s version of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” is truly brilliant. In the days after he passed away I listened to this song on repeat. He really takes us to church on this one, and it’s impossible to not be changed by it. There’s something so visceral and beautiful about his voice, and no matter what he sang you felt it in your soul. When he performed he was always such a passionate, writhing, sweaty mess. That’s fucking rock and roll.
Rest in peace, Joe. Nobody will ever take your place.