Sam Cooke

28 albums, 178 tracks

Born in Jan 22, 1931



"Sam Cooke"

Mar 06, 2019

An Unrestrained Live Performance Brings A Whole New Perspective To Sam Cooke’s Music

Written by @camjameson from Extraneous Routes  / 10 mins read

Across the last century of popular media, there’ve been a handful of musicians so prolific that they’ve earned themselves legendary titles amongst listeners, whether it be Michael Jackson’s ‘King Of Pop’ moniker, Funk visionary George Clinton’s well-deserved ‘King Of Funk’ title or the colloquial term of endearment ‘The Boss’ attributed to the spirit of American Rock music himself Bruce Springsteen, but only one royal entity comes to mind when you hear the term ‘King Of Soul,’ that being the infallible Sam Cooke, Motown & Soul’s short-lived guardian angel of the fifties & sixties music scene. Cooke was a legend amongst his peers, paving the way for such prolific acts as Marvin Gaye & Aretha Franklin, but – unsurprisingly – the majority of those who recognize his music have absolutely no idea how impactful he was as an artist & personality as his decidedly African-American-leaning sensibilities were painstakingly downplayed by industry execs who wanted him to pursue a more mainstream Pop identity, his producers literally white-washing his music for the sake of record sales instead of capitalizing on the extreme power he had to move Black audiences to action with his intimately-relatable performances & lyrics; I mean, if you were to poll mainstream listeners from the last three decades, they’d likely all describe him as being nothing more than a quaint little Diner-Pop performer whose music you’d find in cheery period-pieces about wholesome sixties-era ideals, as his legacy has been watered-down to present only the most idyllic character who aligns with mainstream interests – One glaring example of this effort to de-Black-ify Cooke is his incredible 1963 record Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963, a record his label refused to release until 1985 because RCA Victor “viewed the album as too gritty and raw and possibly damaging to his Pop image, quietly keeping the recordings in their archive.” Cooke’s ability to capture the unspoken anguish of the African-American existence & his intoxicating stage-presence drove the audience wild, the raucous event creating much more auxiliary noise & astonishingly-disruptive behaviour than most execs had ever seen in a live performance before, thus leading them to deem the entire ordeal to be unfit for the Pop audiences they’d been aggressively marketing his more-restrained Pop music to – In no uncertain terms, the label’s prejudiced perspective of Cooke’s mesmerizing presence led them to shelve his music out of fear it would affect their bottom-line, such blatant racism even persisting up through its second-pressing as part of a 2000 box set wherein the audience was turned-down to negligible levels to maintain the softer sound the industry had advertised him as, in essence removing the very soul of this Soul musician’s work. Luckily, the 2005 remaster remedies this atrocity by giving audiences the raw, frightfully-enchanting Cooke we all deserve, culminating in a collection any classic audiophile would absolutely love to have propped-up on their night stand, a gem of an album deserving of the utmost respect for what it had initially set out to achieve.

The Definitive Sound Of The Sixties

I grew up in a family heavily-invested in carrying on the traditions of African-American-inspired vintage music, with my grandfather being a Jazz musician, my father being a professional Funk & Swing performer & my brothers dabbling in the undeniably Black-originated genre of Techno music, carrying the flame myself for future generations by studying Jazz, Blues, Classic Rock & Punk, all of which have their origins in African-American sonic techniques from over a century ago; As such, I’ve naturally found myself enjoying the works of Sam Cooke from time to time, but it wasn’t until recently that I really understood the full breadth of his influence, literally designing the sonic identity of the mid-century Rhythm & Blues movement as well as becoming one of the most-successful crossover artists in music history, his transition from Gospel to Pop serving as an entryway for general audiences to discover the more spiritual side of Soul in Ray Charles & the rather intimidating presence of James Brown on the Funk side of things, producing somewhat of an evolution on the groundwork Nat King Cole had lain in years prior – If you’re still unsure exactly what this era-defining sound is I’m gabbing-on about, you needn’t look further than his most beloved number “Cupid,” a song whose soothing melodies & inoffensive lyrics are so recognizable they’ve essentially become shorthand for the school-dance atmosphere in movies over the last fifty years, embodying a so-called ‘simpler time’ before freak-dancing, sexual independence & non-standard gender-norms were…well, the norm. It’s a slow yet bubbly ballad of innocent romanticism that uses some sort of musical-wizardry to will people into each-other’s arms, the gentle rocking of its tender Blues walk guitar lines & warm glow of its Motown-esque vocal harmonizations bringing out the most caring attributes of everyone within earshot, turning us into our best selves as we try to woo a prospective partner into an adolescent marriage through slow-dancing whilst leaving a little room for Jesus in-between per the chaperone’s incessant requests. Another example of this iconic retro sound is the other heavy-hitter on Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963, the jubilant Classic Soul number & obvious inspiration for 69 Boyz narrative-based dance hit “Tootsie Roll,” Cooke’s upbeat “Twistin’ The Night Away.” How many times have you danced along to the brilliantly-uplifting rhythms of its drum sequences? Could you even count on your available appendages how many milkshakes have been ordered at a diner in a movie whilst this song nonchalantly chimes away in the background? It – in addition to “Cupid” – is as synonymous with pre-seventies Americana as ‘the dab’ is with millennials, instantly transporting the listener to another time entirely & subconsciously shifting your mood towards positivity before you’ve even had a chance to recognize what’s happening to you & for that alone there is immense worth in this album, but there’s still so much more to discover amidst the tracks of Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 that give it more value than you could ever have expected if you simply stuck to his studio records.

A Snapshot Of Debauchery We Often Underestimate

When taking a look back at the music of our parents’ generations, we typically write it off as being either embarrassingly-corny or overly-hopeful narratively, so relatively innocent in comparison to today’s constant onslaught of mental health issues & promiscuous dating routines in modern music that it feels almost alien to us, but the performances within Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 do a spectacular job of showing their generation was anything but the proper individuals we’ve always imagined them to be; It’s packed to the gills with unmistakable audio capture of one of the wildest parties ever put to record back then, illustrating just how controversial the subversive music style was at the time & the incredible power it had to move a generation of peoples towards artistic & personal freedom in a time when the masses – especially those of African-American descent – were expected to submit to anachronistic views of decency & refrain from any acts that would go against religiously-ordained ideals – Just look at tracks like “It’s All Right / For Sentimental Reasons”: Though an admittedly-generic composition in its original studio rendition, the live experience allows you to enjoy all the cultural frustration & subtlety of sexual desire Sam Cooke has boiling up inside, his gritty vocal fry & decidedly-loose demeanor going against all the codes Popstars were encouraged to uphold, this emotionally-empowering energy made all-the-more prevalent as the screams of adoring fans blare out in the background for the entirety of the recording, showcasing the same sort of problematic fanaticism young audiences displayed in the early days of The Beatles which had started whipping evangelical citizens into a frenzy around the same time; Even “Somebody Have Mercy” gets a bit out of control along its runtime, with the crowd absolutely having the time of their lives amongst like-minded peers as Cooke croons ever-so-elegantly in his signature bad-boy timbre about being confident in yourself in times of trouble, asking listeners to keep their spirits high whilst exhilarating Blues walk chord progressions push the song forward over a real driving drum sequence tailor-made for getting your groove on, providing a sonic outlet for them to dance their angst & troubles away that they just couldn’t find on mainstream radio – It’s easy to forget how phenomenal performances like this were with a modern perspective, but the live aspect of Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 really does breathe new light & understanding into songs such as these, connecting you with the wills of an entire generation & bringing us together as one continually-struggling human race on this tiny-ass planet.

Blues & Soul Mentalities In Their Simplest Forms

At the end of the day, any number of Sam Cooke’s legendary numbers from his all-too-short career can tell you how important he was to the Soul movement & the music industry as a whole, but there’s really nothing like putting yourself in the shoes of those who got to actually experience his greatness first-hand, Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 easily sitting as one of the most iconic live records of all time, even edging out a lot of the standard studio performances which top the list. Whether it be the somber pining of songs like “Bring It On Home To Me” that acknowledges the only reason worth living is love itself, the youthful vigor of controversial numbers like “Chain Gang” or the persistent message of hope in other such as “Nothing Can Change This Love,” every single tune manages to capture the very essence of Soul & Blues music themselves, banking on the inherent human desire to be someone with the emotional performances Cooke gives & utilizing some truly-impressive live audio mixing to bring the whole experience to you in exquisite detail – While we can all agree that the reasoning behind preventing audiences from hearing Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 was clearly a bunch of racist bullshit, it’s almost more offensive that audiences of the day – including Cooke himself – didn’t get to experience this record in all its glory, as it had the potential to touch the hearts of millions in ways people desperately needed to be spoken to in one of the most traumatic periods in recent American history. On the bright side, Cooke’s aging demographic is slowly dying out yet records like this continue to find their way into the ears of younger listeners, ensuring that future generations can learn from the magnificent musical progress of the past & use it to maintain artistic creativity for millennia to come…or at least I hope so – Fingers crossed!

Feb 25, 2019

Whether Going Short Or Long With His Vocal Belts, Sam Cooke Proves He Is Still King Of The Slow Jam On ‘30 Greatest Hits: Portrait of a Legend’

Written by @taylor / 7 mins read

30 Greatest Hits: Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 really goes back in time to give us some of the best music Sam Cooke ever put out – and it seems to serve as a perfect introduction to one of the most successful and recognized Soul singers of all time. Being an R&B fan myself, I am of course familiar with Cooke, but admittedly, I wouldn’t be able to say which original album is going to be essential listening, and so I am very happy with what I hear on this compilation – where staple songs benefit from an excellent remaster, and other songs that I am not so familiar with really illuminate for me how ahead of time these Soul songs were. Gospel energy was refashioned into sexual energy, clearly risqué for it’s time period, but the man had so much love to give – predating Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. He’s the original Soul stirrer, the original king of the slow jam, and though some songs are arranged in a safer, accessible style, I like hearing how the passion in his voice always cuts through.

The Gospel Roots Here Are Clear To Hear

On “Touch the Hem of His Garment”, the narrative time hops, sounding like a biblical setting, and then a more modern one, as an ailing woman hopes for a cure to what ails her while watching Jesus walk by; “The doctors, they done all they could / but their medicine would do no good / when she touched him, the savior didn't see / but still he turned around and cried "somebody touched me" / she said "it was I who just wanna touch the hem of your garment / I know I'll be made whole right now.” This is powerful and creative songwriting, made more powerful by the aching granular belting coming out of Sam Cooke’s mouth – singing over the subject matter in such a way that you just need to believe it, even with its tall-tale of a story unfolding. I am struck by the fact that there is no real resolution, only that the sick woman hopes for a cure and believes she will be saved. An acapela Gospel Spiritual warms the heart through the warmth of syncopated harmony, exactly the type of music that Cooke grew up on, and this is why the album earns its right to be called ‘Portrait of a Legend’ – doing well to remaster such old fashioned church music alongside the more modern examples, to explain why hearing Sam Cooke’s voice, whatever he is singing about, is always a bit like going to Sunday service.

Arguably The First Case Of True Black Vocals Which Demanded To Be Heard

“Cupid” is such a comfortable Pop sound with a clever love melody and a sweeping string and horn arrangement, sounding like the most perfect example of Doo Wop, while not being as predictable as that genre is known to be. The guitar rhythm associated with it is tropical and light, sort of mixing Bossa Nova and Hawaiian Folk vibes, to my ear, and anchored by Sam Cooke’s distinctly African American Soul, so that it becomes in the end such a mutli-cultural effort. I have heard that Cooke is one of the first, if not the first, who endeavored to sound like his original Black roots wherever possible – a vocal style that Nat King Cole could have exhibited at any moment, yet he more often than not avoided. Just listen to the different singing styles used on the same track which both sing, “I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons).” In terms of singing ‘out’, James Brown, an admirer of Cooke’s sound, would obviously take up this mantle, yet it was in a time that was increasingly ready for such a raw, soulful, and moving sound. The point here is that Black Music didn’t carry over to the mainstream as well in the early days of Soul, whereas audiences preferred more digestible music which played more safe vocally – yet thankfully, through Sam Cooke’s music, music styles would be changed forever. Folks were always singing this way in church, but the demand, created notably by Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, opened the door for everyone to belt out in a way that just came natural.

Soul Stirrers And Heart Melting Music Are Here On Both Old Standards And Lesser Known Tunes

As much as he is attached to the Soul movement, Sam Cooke was really just as much a Pop craftsman, and many of his standards have that timeless, perfect formula. “Sugar Dumpling” is a nice, drum heavy beat dedicated to ‘his’ type of loyal woman, and the Doo Wop perfection of “Only Sixteen”continues these old fashioned notions – but all are told lovingly and respectfully. There were a few hits I haven’t heard that I thoroughly enjoyed, such as the echoey “Sad Mood”, the blues rockin’ “Meet Me at Mary’s Place.” “Another Saturday Night” is a standard with unlimited swag, sharing the same tempo and energy with the uber famous “Twistin’ the Night Away.” One of my personal favorites tracks to meditative over is “Chain Gang”, which sounds sweet but is quite sad actually, with lyrics like “you hear them moaning their lives away”, these lines refer to what “the sound of the men working on the chain gang” sound like. These are incarcerated types, in this instance Black, who undoubtedly received heavy sentences during tumultuous and racist eras – ending up being used as forced labor for the rest of their days. As excellent as these tracks all are, nothing quite gets me like the soul stirrers – the ones that just put me in a deep deep mood; “Bring It on Home to Me” and “A Change Is Gonna Come.” “Bring It on Home to Me” finds Cooke at his vocal zenith in terms of balladry – he belts out with such emotion exactly how sorry he was for being a conceded fool when they broke up; “I know I laughed when you left / but now I know I only hurt myself / oh, oh, bring it to me / bring your sweet loving / bring it on home to me.” Honesty makes for some of the best music, and speaking of honesty, on “A Change Is Gonna Come”, the actual nature of life and death is put to the test with challenging words; “it's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die / 'cause I don't know what's up there, beyond the sky / it's been a long, a long time coming / but I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.” I actually feel the weight of the narrator’s troubles, yet through him and with him, I agree to believe that a change will come. This song could work today just as it worked during the civil rights era.

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Samuel Cook (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964), known professionally as Sam Cooke, was an American singer, songwriter, civil rights activist and entrepreneur.
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