Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday late afternoon tunes: Accidentally the worst thing John Belushi ever did

Short of killing himself in that LA bungalo, I mean: He did an impression of Joe Cocker, developed for the 1973 National Lampoon stage show and cast album "Lemmings," that was spot-on, and captured Cocker's over-the-top-osity in a way that even Cocker liked it (they famously appeared together on SNL in 1976, which is part of the problem).

Don't get me wrong; Belushi's Cocker impression was great. The problem is that today there are one or two generations of music fans who don't remember, or never knew, the difference between Belushi's parody Cocker and Cocker's heart-and-soul Cocker.

It's like the current generation of readers who have read, or will watch, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and think they know about Jane Austen's original work. Or, if you're a Fox News viewer, it must be like the thought that, a generation from now, people might not remember which one was Bill O'Reilly and which one was Stephen Colbert. Or, for the classically minded, it's like the suitors who desired Penelope but settled for bedding her handmaidens.

And Belushi was, or became, a fair bluesman, and he certainly knew how to commit to the part, and he and Danny knew how to put together an album of great covers with an insanely good band behind them – all indubitable Cocker achievements.

But John was no Joe. There was only one, and we lost him last week.

Quoth Indiana University music history professor Glenn Gass:
He’s most famous for songs that aren’t his. My favorite Joe Cocker song is “Feelin’ Alright,” which isn’t his song either. He’s much more famous for songs he didn’t write. But Elvis never wrote a song, either. Joe Cocker’s great talent was taking a song and riding it off a cliff, into a direction you didn’t see coming. He was clearly not interested in a note-for-note copy of someone else’s song. He made it his own song, but he did it with love. With his arms flailing, he sang like he was a fan of the songs he was singing; at the same time, he was embodying it. It’s a weird paradox: he was sort of outside of the song and totally inside.
And addeth on Charlie Pierce:
I, too, mourn the passing of Joe Cocker. As much as people have praised his Woodstock breakthrough, I think the Mad Dogs and Englishman orchestra that he and Leon Russell put together and took on the road in 1970 was his career's peak. The band included two multi-keyboardists -- Russell and Chris Stainton -- the entire rhythm section from Derek and the Dominoes, some of the best backup singers of the time, including Claudia Lennear and Rita Coolidge, and featured Jim Price and Bobby Keys on the horns. The resulting album was one of the best live documents of the era, including Allman Brothers sets.
And lung cancer got him, at age 70. (Lung cancer got Warren Zevon, too. Joe took other writers' songs and ran with them; Warren wrote songs that other singers lined up to cover. And neither has gotten the lasting credit he deserved.)

Cry me a river.

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