There's a definite skill involved in the ability to successfully interpret another person's music. It's like being an actor who needs to create something unique out of another person's writing. In some ways actors have it easier than musicians and singers because they create a character based on the material giving them an emotional remove from the work.
Musicians, and especially singers, don't have the privilege of that detachment and have to be able to represent and recreate another person's emotions, while still trying to render something original. If the song has already been performed by its creator, the interpreter's job becomes even harder as audiences will have a preconceived notion of what the song should sound like and what feelings it will generate.
While in the early days of popular music it was quite normal for a singer to be in a band that would perform other people's music and singers like Frank Sinatra and Dean Marin rose to fame because of their ability to do just that. Their secret was to develop a style – or character trait – that they would portray while singing, and allowed them to maintain their emotional detachment.
Of course on the other end of the spectrum are the people like Celine Dion who have never met a note that they can't milk for all it's worth. Instead of allowing their natural skills to meld with what's been written in order to fulfill the writer's intent, people like that insist upon trying to overwhelm a song with as much melodrama as they can summon.
One of the best interpreters of songs for the past 30-plus years has been the great British singer Joe Cocker. Not only does he genuinely put everything he has into a song, he becomes a conduit for the music, ensuring that he preserves the original intent of the piece. Perhaps it's because he is blessed with a voice naturally raw with passion. He only has to let it do its thing, and not worry about embellishments, for him to be effective.
Whatever the reason, Joe Cocker has been one of the few people in popular music to make a genuine success out of performing other people's music. In celebration of Mr. Cocker's career Capitol Records have released a compilation disc, Classic Cocker, featuring recordings that he has made while with the label.
While some of the material is relatively new in that, they have only been out for the past ten or so years, there are also recent live recordings featuring the two songs that first pushed him into the international spotlight. While "When The Night Comes" and "Edge Of A Dream" were both penned by Bryan Adams for recent releases, "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" and "Little Help From My Friends" are vintage Joe Cocker.
Not just because he first recorded them nearly 40 years ago, but also because they show off his voice in the best light possible. Even though these live versions of the songs were recorded thirty years after his memorable Woodstock performance of "Little Help From My Friends," they retain the vitality and power that made that performance so memorable.
How often does someone get almost as much success covering a song as the writers did when it is as fresh in audiences' minds as The Beatles version of "Little Help From My Friends" was in 1969? That, two years after Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released, Joe Cocker was able to make a song from that album as big if not bigger a hit then the original is testimony to his incredible power and talent. That he is still able to sing that song today with the same energy is even more remarkable.
Of the 19 songs that have been gathered on Classic Cocker all are ones that are guaranteed to show off his voice to its utmost. From the ballads like "Have A Little Faith In Me" and "You Are So Beautiful" to up tempo numbers like "Unchain My Heart" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" he brings the songs to life like only Joe Cocker can. Even a piece of schmaltz like "Up Where We Belong" is made next to palatable by his gravel being contrasted by Jennifer Warrens' soft alto.
It is very rare that a person can make a highly successful career out of singing predominately covers of other people's music anymore. It takes a singular talent to be able to interpret another's work in such a way that you both make it your own and honor its original intent. Joe Cocker is that rare talent.