Saturday Night Live was only into the third episode of its first season when John Belushi busted out his iconic impression of Joe Cocker. Belushi flails around the stage, wiggling his arms all over the place, a freakish grimace contorting his face while he belts out the Beatles’s "With a Little Help From My Friends,” which Cocker had soulfully remade in his own image over the years. The whole thing ends with Belushi lunge-falling off the stage. It’s easily one of the top five most memorable moments in the history of the long-running comedy show, and it got there because of how purely Belushi channels Cocker’s raw soulfulness which, admittedly, looked extremely painful to subject himself to. As we’ll see with John Edginton’s documentary Joe Cocker: Mad Dog With Soul, that deep guttural ability to grind his guts out on stage came with a price.

The famous bit from Belushi is not referenced in the film, but it’s possibly for the better since the proceedings here are overshadowed in part with the heaviness of Cocker passing away at the tail end of 2014. There are some funny and light moments, to be sure, but much of Cocker’s career was a besotted mess with everyone around him trying to help him get it together long enough to put on more than a few great shows in a row. Cocker’s absence is felt throughout, and Edginton doesn’t include nearly enough archival interview footage to get Cocker’s spirit across, opting for loads of clips from live performances and accolades from artists who were proud to see their work through the new lens his performances lent them. There’s a lot of the “Mad Dog” here, but with regard to the titular “...With Soul” promise, things fall a bit short.

In the history of pop music, Cocker sits in the middle of an interesting venn diagram, right in the intersections of rock, jazz, and, most evidently, soul. His talents were not in generating his own material, but instead he was somehow able to refashion the songs of other musicians into things that were entirely his own. You can run down a list of covers that exceed the original, like Hendrix’s version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and Johnny Cash’s spin on Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” but how talented do you have to be to build pretty much your entire career on that unique ability? Aside from just the quality of Cocker’s voice (which was monumental) is his underappreciated ability as a curator. If your range of abilities are limited, you can’t waste time taking on songs that you aren’t going to knock out of the park. Think about how long do you spend picking just the right song to rep at Karaoke, and now imagine how long you’d spend knowing that you had to be the best ever person to take that song on. You’re gonna waste it on "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang? Maybe think again.

In the history of pop music, Cocker sits in the middle of an interesting venn diagram, right in the intersections of rock, jazz, and, most evidently, soul. His talents were not in generating his own material, but instead he was somehow able to refashion the songs of other musicians into things that were entirely his own. You can run down a list of covers that exceed the original, like Hendrix’s version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and Johnny Cash’s spin on Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” but how talented do you have to be to build pretty much your entire career on that unique ability? Aside from just the quality of Cocker’s voice (which was monumental) is his underappreciated ability as a curator. If your range of abilities are limited, you can’t waste time taking on songs that you aren’t going to knock out of the park. Think about how long do you spend picking just the right song to rep at Karaoke, and now imagine how long you’d spend knowing that you had to be the best ever person to take that song on. You’re gonna waste it on "The Bad Touch" by the Bloodhound Gang? Maybe think again.

Cocker’s professional arc fits well into the stock Behind the Music rise-and-fall-and-rise-again structure, and Edginton doesn’t skimp on how low Cocker was made by his bad business decisions and chronic alcoholism. Personally, I’d say that rock-bottom should look like taking breaks between songs to puke up buckets of beer-bile, which Cocker did enough times for it to be something of a running joke among roadies. His real rock bottom, though, came when he realized that he could no longer hit the "With a Little Help From My Friends” high note. Somehow Cocker, a frustrating person in general (to hear his friends tell it at least), manages to make even getting sober frustrating with how easy it is for him. What was stopping him from heeding all the other obvious cautionary signs up to this point?

To discount Cocker, in the grand scheme of things, as being low on the totem pole of rock and roll is not that difficult. He didn’t write his own stuff and he wasn’t exactly what you’d call a bandleader (those responsibilities were handed over to Leon Russell, who notably took every opportunity to upstage Cocker during the "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" tour), and he mismanaged himself into enough debt to swamp whatever legacy he might have salvaged in the ‘80s and ‘90s. That being said, the guy was an unparalleled performer on nights when he was on, and if anything this film should make you dig up some of his live albums, which are potent indeed.

Almost a year to the day since Belushi debuted his Cocker impression, Joe Cocker himself showed up and flattened the Studio 8H audience with "You Are So Beautiful" before Belushi comes out to challenge the man himself to a Cocker-off during "Feelin' Alright." Despite an honest effort, Belushi can’t keep up and the scene ends with the two men in a respectful embrace. Strictly speaking, Mad Dog With Soul does a decent job of putting Cocker on his appropriate pedestal, but it still left me with this “You just had to be there, maaaan” vibe when it comes to whatever it was that made him the legend that he obviously is.

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