That’s amazing. I grew up without Sam Cooke’s voice. That’s not to say I grew up without Sam Cooke. I heard Cupid by Johnny Nash, Another Saturday Night by Cat Stevens, Bring It On Home To Me by The Animals (well, as a flashback, I’m not that old), Wonderful World by Art Garfunkel. But honest, I don’t remember hearing Sam Cooke. And yes, I know he was dead before I was 8, but so what? That’s what “oldies” are for.
So that’s what I had, This Is Sam Cooke. Later I got A Man And His Music. I bought it at some department store I believe. Thing about that album is that every track was written by Cooke. It’s amazing as a collection that way, but then you don’t get to hear him do Gershwin (Summertime) or Willy Dixon (Little Red Rooster). Better not to have to choose.
Some of these tracks, that weren’t included on either collection, were taken from a TV advertised collection, and I remember picking that up at Pyramid.
And so ladies and gentlemen, Sam Cooke. I will not say anything about his artistry, how he could sing absolutely anything and make it sound as natural as breathing, how he could write the corniest love song, the grooviest dance song, the most profound song about life’s changes and inequalities, and find exactly the right voice and the right mood for each. I won’t say anything about that. It’s been said already by others, better than I could say it. Let’s just listen, shall we?
• Touch The Hem Of His Garment – She is left, in the end, longing. If only, she says, I could touch the hem of his garment, I could be made whole. She doesn’t, though. She is there, in his presence, she sees him, he says touch me. But at the end of the song she has not gotten her wish, and we don’t know whether she will, and whether, if she does, whether she will, in fact, be “made whole.” This is Sam Cooke as leader of the gospel Soul Stirrers, doing an original, and this is ostensibly gospel, but there’s something very human going on here that belies the simple faith of your typical gospel record..
• That’s Heaven To Me – More “gospel.” Heaven, to Cooke, is very earthly indeed.
• I’ll Come Running Back To You – Total and complete self sacrifice, but in a secular romantic context, as it will be from now on. “I’ve got my pride” he sings, while he disproves that very notion throughout. A hit in the winter of 1958.
• You Send Me –I don’t think we use that expression anymore. I think Olive Oil used it, though, in the old Popeye cartoon. “You send me,” she said, to Bluto… This was Cooke’s first hit, in the fall of 1957, and his only number 1.
• Win Your Love For Me – Here is where it’s hopeless. We’re not told why, just that it would take “a miracle.” Man, if she hears him sing this, that’s all it should take. From the fall of 1958.
• Just For You – It’s a nice romantic sentiment, just not very sustainable in the long run.
• Chain Gang – Poor guys, incarcerated for who knows what, “working their lives away.” But wait, isn’t that all of us? Jim Croce covered this. From the fall of 1960.
• When A Boy Falls In Love – A song about total and utter infatuation. Here is where we hear the difference between Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke. A hit in the summer of 1965. RCA was milking the legend.
• Only Sixteen – An old timer of 17 looks back on an old love. Covered by Craig Douglas in England, and by Dr. Hook in the 70s. Listen to the melody. From the summer of 1959.
• Wonderful World – Love will make you fail in school, sang Mickey to Sylvia. Oh Mickey, retorted Sylvia, school will make you fail in love. But the truth, for those of us who were there, was that school will make you popular, or school will make you miserable. And success with the ladies was far too often a function of success on some level, often academic. Ah, sang Sam Cooke here, if only it weren’t so. This song was revived by Herman’s Hermits in 1965, and by Art Garfunkel (with Paul Simon and James Taylor) in 1978. From the summer of 1960.
• Cupid – Revived by Johnny Nash in 1969, and Johnny Rivers did it on one of his albums.. A song of desperate longing, for a girl “who doesn’t know I exist.” From the summer of 1961.
• Nothing Can Change This Love – The idea that love is immutable is a popular one in pop songs. It’s also silly. From the fall of 1962.
• Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day – Wait, sings Sam, wait, all comes to he who waits. But Sam can’t wait.
• Love Will Find A Way – Sam goes slightly country on this sermon on the certainty of love.
• A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam leaves all the confection behind on this mini-masterpiece. Indeed, he lets out all the stops. “I’m afraid to die” he sings, in this song that was released just after he was murdered. A hit for Cooke in the winter of 1965, the B side of Shake. There are many covers of this: Otis Redding, The Fifth Dimension, and Three Dog Night, on which Chuck Negron absolutely tears the roof off.
• Everybody Likes To Cha Cha Cha – Well this is silly, sure. But really this is a tribute to the human spirit, and overcoming limitations. Seriously. A hit in the spring of 1959.
• Another Saturday Night – All dressed up with no placed to go. I feel your pain, Sam, I feel your pain. A hit in the spring of 1963. Cat Stevens revived this in 1974.
• Meet Me At Mary’s Place – A slow paced song about having fun fun fun. I assume that Mary’s Place is a night club of some sort, but it’s not all that clear…
• Having A Party – Another song about having fun. “Having such a good time” he sings, but there’s a slight air of melancholy here that doesn’t quite jibe. From the summer of 1962.
• Good Times – Let the good time [sic] roll, he sings. It seems that all his party songs are kind of slow, loping, tempered by a dose of something that isn’t exactly good times. Something about “feeling good” here that is specifically transient. From the summer of 1964, when Beatle music was rampant.
• Twistin’ The Night Away – He picks up the tempo here, but it’s still not exactly twisting tempo. A tribute to the cross cultural nature of the twist phenomenon. From the winter of 1962. Rod Stewart covered this.
• Shake – This was Otis Redding’s standard show opener. The Small Faces covered it also. From the winter of 1965. The A side of A Change Is Gonna Come. • Somebody Have Mercy – Sam laments his bad luck and his dysfunctional relationship. This was the flip side of Nothing Can Change This Love, and was a hit in the fall of 1962.
• Sad Mood – Funny thing about Sam Cooke, he’s never entirely happy; a note of melancholy always creeps in. But he’s never entirely sad either, there’s a bounce here. From the winter of 1961.
• Good News – Not the Muddy Waters song. This is some kind of reconciliation. Amazing how simple it always is. From the winter of 1964.
• Bring It On Home To Me – A tour de force. Sends chills up the spine. Lou Rawls sings the responses (yeah!). This was a favourite for covers but it was The Animals who blew away the competition. From the summer of 1962.
• Soothe Me – An odd expression for a love song. A hit for Sam & Dave in 1967.
• That’s Where It’s At – Sam describes the ultimate romance. This was the B side of Cousin Of Mine, from the fall of 1964.
• Frankie And Johnny – The perennial tale of jealousy and murder. Brook Benton had done this 2 years earlier, and Elvis revived it in 1966. This version was a hit in the fall of 1963.
• Summertime – Well, everyone had a crack at this, and so did Sam Cooke. Sure he’s great, and sure he sings this better than 99.% of mortals, but the problem is that Billy Stewart came along in 1966 and blew everyone else out of the water. This was the B Side of You Send Me, and it reached number 81 in its own right in the fall of 1957.
• Feel It – Singing to his girl. Don’t fight it, he says, feel it, and what he’s singing about it music, dancing. Sure. From the fall of 1961.
• (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons – Cooke in direct competition with Nat King Cole on this one. He wins. From the winter of 1958.
• That’s It - I Quit - I’m Moving On – What happens when you hit the wall. Sounds a bit glib, but the sentiment is genuine. From the spring of 1961.
• Cousin Of Mine – This tongue-in-cheek comic opera was on the chart in the fall of 1964.
• Send Me Some Lovin’ – Cooke in direct competition with Little Richard. Can’t declare a winner though; each is great in his own way. From the winter of 1963.
• Little Red Rooster – In case we were wondering whether Sam Cooke could sing blues. Well, nobody would mistake him for Bobby Bland, but Cooke could sing anything. Written by Willy Dixon, recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, and even a UK hit by The Rolling Stones. From late 1963.
• Sugar Dumpling – That he could make this as convincing as A Change Is Gonna Come is all the tribute you need. From the fall of 1965.