John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote this song. The Beatles recorded it a year earlier, but never released it as a single. The Beatles were so impressed with Cocker's version of this that they sent him a telegram of congratulations and placed an ad in the music papers praising it.
This was recorded in 3/4 time - a waltz. The Beatles original version was in traditional 4/4 time. Jimmy Page played guitar, BJ Wilson from Procol Harum played drums, and a gospel choir sang background on this track.
This song has topped the UK charts on three occasions: Cocker's version, then in 1988 Wet Wet Wet hit #1 again on a double A-sided charity single, and in 2004 Sam & Mark from the 2004 UK Pop Idol brought it to the top again.
Cocker also covered The Beatles "I'll Cry Instead," "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window," and "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away."
Denny Cordell produced the album with an early-career Tony Visconti helping out. According to Visconti, Cordell knew the song had huge hit potential and got very particular about the mix, causing a delay. Cocker's record company decided the song needed to be issued right away, and with Cordell out of the country (England), Visconti was suddenly tasked with mixing it. He did the job, and by the time Cordell returned to England, the song was climbing the charts. Visconti ended up mixing the entire album, and even played guitar on one of the tracks: "Bye Bye Blackbird."
Sesame Street did a parody of this called "With A Little Yelp From My Friends." It was performed by "Moe Cocker," a Cocker Spaniel. This version of the song is about a dog who yelps for help when he can't find his bone or scratch a flea.
Cocker sang his devotional version of this song at Woodstock, giving his career a huge boost. The 25-year-old Cocker, wore a tie-dyed T-shirt and was drenched in sweat throughout the performance, securing his reputation as an entertainer who would give his all on stage. This performance appears in the Woodstock documentary.
Joe Cocker is only one of two acts who performed at Woodstock to have had a UK #1 hit. The other was Jimi Hendrix, who had a chart topper with "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)."
The Joe Cocker version was the theme song to the TV series The Wonder Years, starring Fred Savage. The show ran six seasons, from 1988-1993. When it was added to Netflix in 2011, it was with a different version of the theme song, as Cocker's version wasn't cleared.
Securing rights to the theme song and most of the other nearly 300 songs that were used in the show, was a challenge, but in 2014 the series was finally released on DVD, with most of the songs - including the original theme - intact.
When Cocker died in 2014 at age 70, Paul McCartney issued this statement regarding his version of this song: "It was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem, and I was forever grateful for him for having done that."
Cocker brought this to the Woodstock stage again when he appeared at Woodstock '94.
In 2002, Cocker performed this with Phil Collins (on drums) and Queen guitarist Brian May for Party at the Palace, a celebration at Buckingham Palace in honor of the Golden Jubilee of Elizabeth II.
This was used on The Simpsons in the 1994 episode "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song" in a scene spoofing The Wonder Years.