Unchain My Heart

Unchain My Heart was written by a guy called Bobby Sharp (about whom I know nothing more). It was recorded by Ray Charles in 1961, by Trini Lopez in 1963 and, of more relevance to this post, by Joe Cocker in 1987. Here’s a somewhat muted video of Joe Cocker’s version. I recommend you turn up the volume and listen on headphones to get the most out of it.

Joe Cocker was born in Sheffield, England in 1944. At the age of 12 he sang with his older brother’s skiffle group and in 1960 he formed his own band, The Cavaliers. A year later Cocker formed a new group, Vance Arnold and the Avengers, which landed a gig to support the Rolling Stones in 1963. Then, in 1966, he teamed up with Chris Stainton to form The Grease Band and two years later they had a number 1 hit with a cover of the Beatles song, With a Little Help From My Friends. That song has been almost synonymous with the Joe Cocker name ever since.

The Grease Band toured the US in 1969, taking in the Newport Rock Festival, the Denver Pop Festival and, most famously, Woodstock. By the end of 1969 Cocker was tired of touring and dissolved The Grease Band. But another tour of the US had already been booked and, to honour his contractual obligations, Cocker collaborated with Leon Russell, forming Mad Dogs and Englishmen. This band’s first tour was exhausting and it took a heavy toll on Cocker. He started drinking excessively and took time out both in Los Angeles and back in his home town in the UK.

After nearly two years away from the music business Cocker began touring again. But he continued to struggle with depression and alcohol problems through the early 70s. Slowly, though, he picked himself up and in 1982 his duet with Jennifer Warnes, Up Where We Belong, won a Grammy (for best pop performance by a duo) and an Oscar (for best original song in the film, An Officer and a Gentleman).

Subsequently, his career saw him coasting along comfortably, enjoying respect from his peers and loyalty from a broad international audience …

Obituary, The Guardian
Joe Cocker, 2007

Joe Cocker died of lung cancer in 2014 at his home in Colorado. He left behind a legacy of outstanding performances. His agent described him as “without doubt the greatest rock/soul singer ever to come out of Britain” and Crotchety Man would find it hard to disagree.

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