Remembering Joe Cocker: Performing With John Belushi On ‘SNL’

Rock vocalist Joe Cocker died on this date in 2014 at age 70. Possessing one of the most recognizable singing voices, Cocker was also equally identifiable, at least early in his career, by his enthusiastic performance style.

Born in Sheffield, England on May 20, 1944, Cocker’s career was built around his ability to interpret others’ songs and make them something wholly his own. His May 1969 debut album’s title track was Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help from My Friends” by The Beatles. A performance by Cocker of “With a Little Help from My Friends” at the August 1969 Woodstock music festival, which was included in the documentary film chronicling the historic event, helped engrain Cocker’s version as the preeminent interpretation of the now-classic song.

Cocker would go on to lead the landmark Mad Dogs & Englishmen Tour that was the source of the 1970 live album, Mad Dogs & Englishman. The record, like his debut album, had a cover of Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright,” alongside Cocker’s takes on bandleader Leon Russell’s “Delta Lady,” The Coasters’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” The Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women,” Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on the Wire,” The Box Tops’ “The Letter” and The Beatles’ “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window,” among others.

A few years later, Cocker scored a massive hit with his interpretation of Billy Preston’s “You Are So Beautiful.” In the 1980s, Cocker teamed with Jennifer Warnes on the successful pop crossover hit, “Up Where We Belong,” which appeared in the film, An Officer and a Gentleman. The #1 hit saw the pair win the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo and it went on to earn an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

In subsequent years, Cocker continued recording and releasing studio albums, while also regularly touring, though his performance style was much tamer from its freewheeling ways in the late-1960s and early-1970s.

“You know, you see all your old stuff on YouTube now,” Cocker said in a 2013 interview with the Guardian. “And I was horrified at myself, with my arms just flailing around. I guess that came with my frustration at never having played piano or guitar. If you see me nowadays I’m not quite so animated, but it’s just a way of trying to get feeling out – I get excited and it all comes through my body.”

Comedian John Belushi, who was an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, was not shy about his love of music and befriended many musicians, including members of the Grateful Dead. A talented musician in his own right, Belushi would showcase his skills through various SNL musical sketches, like dressing in a bee costume to sing the blues standard “I’m A King Bee” or teaming with Dan Akroyd to launch what became the very real touring act The Blues Brothers.

Cocker was invited to perform in October 1976 on an episode of the second season of SNL. While it was Cocker’s first time on the live late-night program, his presence had donned the 30 Rock stage a few times during the show’s first season, in the form of Belushi’s spot-on impersonation.

The third episode of SNL did not have a musical guest. Instead, host Rob Reiner introduced a performer who “needs no introduction” before Belushi delivered an impassioned “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Additional season one episodes saw Belushi reprise his Cocker impression alongside John Sebastian, Raqel Welch and Leon and Mary Russell.

Below is footage of Cocker’s season two performance of “Feelin’ Alright,” with Belushi coming out to prove just how eerily similar his impression could be. Watch here: