Throughout my childhood I grew up hearing Joe Cocker due to the fact that my dad is a huge fan of his. Cocker is Sheffield born and while he was attempting to establish a name for himself through the 60s, he lived barely a stones throw away from where my dad was growing up in Crookes. Somewhat star-struck by an obvious talent on the verge of being the country’s next big thing living in the immediate vicinity, my dad, at that point in his early teens, would deliver flyers in the local vicinity for Joe Cocker. Part of me would like to think that this went some tiny way to contributing to the huge success that Cocker would enjoy as the 60s closed.
For a lot of people Cocker’s career can be summarised as follows;
– “With a Little Help From My Friends”
– The Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour
– “Up Where We Belong”
– An ongoing career as an elder statesman of soul-powered soft rock.
Of course, that’s simplifying things to the extreme, as it glosses over the fact that throughout the 70s, at a time when Cocker should have been at his peak as a recording artist, he was struggling with all manner of legal problems, battling addiction and generally falling short of his enormous potential. Things got so bad that Cocker cannot remember recording a number of his albums during the mid 70s. One of those albums is I Can Stand a Little Rain, which to my ears, is his best studio album.
Put out the light
As I Can Stand a Little Rain starts you are greeted with the celebratory sound of a crack team of session players kicking into a blistering version of Daniel Moore’s “Put Out the Light”. Now the thing I have always found with Cocker is that because he specialises in cover versions, his albums lack a certain unified identity of their own, they’re just collections of songs that he’s decided to cover. This just isn’t so when it comes to I Can Stand a Little Rain, which is odd really, as there was no reason that it should work – Cocker himself was in a world of trouble as he was battling his personal demons and the material he chose to cover on this album were hardly obvious choices for him to make a success of.
The opening trio of songs are among Cocker’s best work, with the title track being one of the great songs of hope and emotional redemption ever recorded, complete with gospel choir swelling behind Cockers emotionally cracked vocals. From there this album is littered with high points, with his top-draw covers of “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress”, his nearly-as-good-as-the-original-version of Randy Newman‘s “Guilty” and a gorgeous performance of, err, “Performance” by Allen Toussaint. Most famous of all though is Cocker’s cover of Billy Preston and Dennis Wilson‘s “You Are So Beautiful”, which has over the years become one of his signature numbers. On top of all this, I Can Stand a Little Rain is one of Cocker’s best sounding albums due to the production job done by Jim Price, who had been a member of Cocker’s touring band since the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour.
The moons a harsh mistress
Though it’s unlikely, if anyone decides to take the plunge, untangle the web of management and record label contracts and commit themselves to a full remastering exercise of Cocker’s 70s albums, I Can Stand a Little Rain will inevitably be hailed as one of the lost gems of the 1970s. Sadly it remains, along with so many of Cocker’s 70s albums, difficult to find on CD at a sensible price – the last time I looked I couldn’t find it for less than £20 with any online retailer, and there’s even less chance of you finding it on the high street.
As I said at the start of this review, I grew up listening to a lot of Joe Cocker albums. I can’t confess to being the biggest fan of some of his studio albums, but I can confirm that he has remains a potent live act even today, that Mad Dogs and Englishmen is one of the greatest live albums ever recorded and that the live album of him performing at the Woodstock Festival really shouldn’t have stayed in the vaults as long as it did. In terms of his studio work, it all depends on personal preference, but for me he has never recorded a studio album which hung together better than I Can Stand a Little Rain.