When I first listened to Joe Cocker’s Fire it Up I thought his voice had had a facelift; it just didn’t sound like what I once thought of as Joe Cocker. The album did grow on me, though. Fire It Up is a good album, very good in many ways—particularly if you have never heard Mad Dogs and Englishmen. All of my notions changed, however, when I learned there was a live version of Fire It Up. It may not be Mad Dogs and Englishmen, though it may be a 2013 version of that album (maybe more), and it is his first live album in twenty some years, an update of the talent that was exhibited raucously way back in 1970.
Joe Cocker's Best Live Album...and It’s from 2013
So if you want the art-gallery, wine-sipping version, go with 2012’s studio recording of Fire It Up. It is inoffensive and good, very well done, but you’ll be missing a lot. If you want the house-raided-by-the police, like back in university days, wild-party version, go with 2013’s Fire It Up-Live. That’s the one with the vigour.
How many artists can claim—rather, exclaim!—that their live version is better than their studio version? I can’t think of many, but Joe Cocker is that guy. He stands in front of his audience and plays that voice like a wild sax, plaintive, invigorating, and just as distinctive as it was way back in 1970.
The Hands—It’s Not Homeland, But...
Nothing against “Younger” as a studio version, but put it in front of an audience live and you have one of the best Joe Cocker songs of all time. This is one of those pivotal moments that this site is about, an artist with the wisdom of the ages who can belt out tunes as of old, but who has the wisdom of many years of surviving the rock-and-roll life. “Younger” is a brilliant tune, but it is beyond brilliant live, on the spot, and passionately delivered.
The same is true of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” “Come Together,” “I’ll Be Your Doctor,” and “You Don’t Know What You’re Doing to Me.” This is no ordinary live album. Given his age, the songs, the delivery, the voice, this is clearly the best live album Cocker has yet delivered, beating out such brilliant albums as Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
Check out our review of Mad Dogs and Englishmen.