The “Listen Again” series went over well enough here in the Los Angeles area that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some L.A. TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) FIVE-STAR albums. This edition we discuss a suggestion from a Los Angeles reader Sam Cooke’s The Best of Sam Cooke.
For those not in the know, Sam Cooke, Born Samuel Cook on January 22, 1931, was an American Soul, R &B, pop and gospel singer-songwriter. Cooke, nicknamed the King of Soul, was both one of the founders and a groundbreaker in the genre of soul music. Cooke is said to have contributed to the rise of numerous other artists including Al Green, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. His singing also helped make performers such as Otis Redding and James Brown more popular as well.
His accomplishments include almost 30 Top 40 tunes in the US from 1957 through 1964 (when he was by the manager in a Los Angeles hotel at 33 years old). His big hits included songs such as “You Send Me”, “Chain Gang”, “Wonderful World”, and “Twistin’ the Night Away”. Cooke was also one of the first black artists to handle his own career and he founded a record label and a publishing company.
The most popular compilation of his hits is generally considered to be The Best of Sam Cooke. The original vinyl release clocks in at almost 32 minutes in length and includes twelve tracks. Cooke sings all lead vocals backed up by none other than Lou Rawls.
Cooke’s best tunes are his pop hits such as the lead-in “You Send Me”, “Twistin’ the Night Away”, “Having a Party” and “Bring It On Home”—which are all included here on this 1962 RCA collection. Cooke’s signature sound—a soaring tenor that successfully captured both the tragic and exuberantly joyful aspects of a song—was an influence on modern music. Singers such as Rod Stewart, for example, would have been lost without Cooke.
Also on the album are the songs the top forty tune “Only Sixteen” and “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha” which rose to number 2 on the R&B charts. They are followed by a cover version of “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” which had been a hit for other artists including Nat King Cole back in 1946. Cooke would see this single climb to number 17 as a pop single and hit number 5 on the R&B charts.
The next number is “(What a) Wonderful World” which is one of his most covered songs. Performers such as Rod Stewart, Otis Redding, The Supremes and Art Garfunkel to name but a few would record their own versions of the song. Cooke himself sang it to number 12 on the pop charts, number 2 on the R&B and to number 27 in the UK.
“Summertime” follows here. This is, perhaps, one of the cuts that a few critics suggest is less important than some others included here. It’s from the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. On the other hand, while it wasn’t a chartbuster for Cooke, this musical selection would live on to be recorded by acts as significant as The Doors and Janis Joplin and more recently inspired performers as Sublime.
“Chain Gang” is, of course, also included. It’s a fitting addition considering that this was Cooke’s second-biggest US RCA single. It took number 2 on the pop and R&B charts and even climbed to number 9 in the UK. It was, in fact, his first top 10 tunes since his 1957 song “You Send Me” on his previous label.
“Cupid” is also on the album as is “Sad Mood”. The former would slot in at 17 as a pop single, 20 as an R&B hit and even reach number 7 in the UK. Since its release it has been covered by a diverse group including the likes of Redding, Boyz II Men, Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie and Melanie Fiona. The latter would also make the top 40 on both pop and R&B charts.
The recording would be released on CD in 1990. It would include all 12 original songs. It would also feature the bonus track “Summertime [Alternate Take]”.
The album would not be forgotten in the new millennium either. The 2005 reissue would even include three bonus tracks: “Win Your Love for Me”, “You Were Made for Me” and “Nothing Can Change This Love”. These were also some of Cooke’s top forty singles.
While very few folks suggest that there might be a moment or two when Cooke’s vocals were applied to so-called trivial material, with a couple of rare exceptions—such as the then-yet-to-be recorded “Another Saturday Night” and the posthumously released “A Change Is Gonna Come”
Sam Cooke’s The Best of Sam Cooke/RCA LSP-2625 still stands as an exceptional album today.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.