Joe Cocker

Joe Cocker

The Millennium Collection

A&M/Universal

Another entry into Universal’s seemingly endless series of repackaging their extensive catalog for the budget-minded curious results in one of the better collections of Joe Cocker’s music. The gravelly voiced soul man unquestioningly did his best work on A&M albums released from 1969-1976, and it’s these tracks that account for nine out of the eleven tunes here.

Not a songwriter (Cocker is co-credited on only one song), the singer was a remarkable interpreter during these years, and his rendering of tunes once thought to be classics in their original versions (the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” and Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” are just two examples) rework these titles in unique and often unusual ways, forcing the listener to rehear them as gritty slabs of R&B. Cocker’s amazingly talented Grease Band and Mad Dogs and Englishmen backing units were also responsible for the arrangements, and when he lost them as on the treackly “You Are So Beautiful,” not to mention the cringe-inducing number one hit “Up Where We Belong,” the singer’s quality quotient took a dive.

Even though this collection ends in 1982 and Cocker has recorded steadily since then, it’s a remarkably solid set and a perfect first purchase, especially for those on a budget. It’s not all the “best” of Joe Cocker (you’ll have to spring for the four-disc box for that), but certainly some of them, and with a bit of creative CD programming, a non-stop enjoyable ride.

Universal Recods, 1755 Broadway, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10019

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