Joe Cocker with Leon Russell and the Shelter People, “The Letter”/”Space Captain” (05/14/70)

Apparently the great break-up boom is at an end; companionship is the thing, as with Joe Cocker’s new assemblage (one hesitates to call thirty-two people a group). The result of this new Delany & Bonnie/Joe Cocker/Mary Clayton/Leon Russell axis may well be many records like this one: limited if overbearing music, lots of pointless solos (everybody’s got to get to do their proverbial thing, of course), simplistic, boring horn riff­ing, and a mammoth chorus line shouting such deadly verities as “It’s getting bet­ter, it’s getting better” and “We got to get it together, we got to get it together.” With so many people involved, the chances of moving, substantial music seem limited.

Cocker’s choice of “The Letter” seems dubious as well. This number was done to perfection the first time out by the Box Tops. Cocker’s version has its mo­ments (as when he sings with very restrained accompaniment, merely drums, piano, and a very subtle horn sound), but it sinks under its own weight when all the horns and cymbals and girls and boys clamber in to enlarge the music. “Space Captain” predictably is one of the currently fashionable optimism anthems—it sounds as if it was more fun to record than it is to listen to it. It seems a tragic waste of talent and spirit for Cocker and his friends to spend their time assuring the world and the rest of us that all’s well, when a glance outside any window will tell you it’s not. Musically, “Space Captain” is a stunning bore. There’s no tension here. Cocker’s new music, as represented on this single, is flaccid.


Rolling Stone, May 14, 1970


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