Tag Archives: Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke is Yours He’ll Never Grow Old

So recently I received an email of the anonymous kind simply with Sam Cooke in the subject line. Already, I was intrigued. Sam Cooke is, in my opinion, the best singer of all time. Aretha Franklin can wail, don’t get me wrong, she’s amazing, but Sam Cooke is effortless in his eloquence. While Aretha was still running around, singing in her father’s church in Detroit, Sam Cooke was with the Soul Stirrers performing Gospel music at it’s finest. I digress, the email. So here’s what it said:

Enjoy your site immensely. No one in the world has these live recordings of Sam Cooke in Harlem late in his life, but me & now you. Do with it what you will.

Wow! I have these golden recordings now that are amazing, but how do I justify putting them up on the blog without some pomp & circumstance? I assure you at some point they will all be released, but there’s a good chance that many of you are wondering who Sam Cooke is…that’s understandable. While his music may be transcendent he has been dead for nearly 45 years now.

Sam Cooke was one of the first Gospel to R&B crossover singers, have his own label & be number 1 on the pop & R&B charts simultaneously. Not only that he was a student of music, there is an interview where 60’s DJ,  Magnificent Montague, asks Sam to hum 8 bars of what Soul represents & Sam hums the most beautiful melody that it nearly brings a man to tears knowing that this is the angelic voice of Soul music. When he wanted to, though, Sam could put some grit behind his voice. Often in his early Gospel days he would get into the song & in those moments you felt the passion he felt for the music.

His crowning achievement, as seems to happen to many artists, came posthumously. “A Change is Gonna Come” speaks of the struggle of African-Americans in the 60’s to actually be free. One of the most beautiful songs ever written, it has perfect orchestration. There is nothing overdone, but when the lyrics start to get heavier, it crescendos into this explosive climatic finish, much like Sam’s death itself. Sam Cooke represented everything that was good about music. His music can make you happy, sad, clap your hands, stomp your feet & if you listen long enough you’ll  realize that his is the voice that eclipses all others.

Soul music isn’t the same as it once was. There are no Sam Cooke’s on the horizons. Perhaps, there never will be. Maybe he’s one of those once in a lifetime artists that comes on bright like a shining star, flames out early & his everlasting legacy is one of true brilliance. There is no one around today that could even compare to Sam in any way. At least in the 60’s there was Otis Redding who was at least a contemporary without the smoothness of Sam. All one can do for comfort is refer back to the words of Magnificent Montague & remember , “Sam Cooke is yours. He’ll never grow old.”

UPDATE: So when the anonymous emailer said that no one in the world had these recordings what I think he meant was anyone who has purchased the 1985 album “Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963″. I should have done a little better research, but they are beautiful recordings nonetheless. My thanks to Sam Cooke’s great nephew Erik Greene for bringing this to my attention. Erik is author of, “Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family’s Perspective”. Which I actually just got from the library yesterday, right after I wrote this post.

Chain Gang (Live) – Sam Cooke – From Anonymous Email

Having a Party (Live) – Sam Cooke – From Anonymous Email

Bring It On Home To Me (Live) – Sam Cooke – From Anonymous Email

It Won’t Be Very Long – Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers

Mean Old World – Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers

Blue Moon – Sam Cooke

If I Had a Hammer (Live) – Sam Cooke

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day – Sam Cooke

Smoke Rings – Sam Cooke

Fool’s Paradise – Sam Cooke

Cupid – Sam Cooke

A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

The Meaning of Soul – Sam Cooke w/ The Magnificent Montague

Top 250 Albums of All-Time 169-160

#169 – What’s The Story Morning Glory? – Oasis

With grunge puttering out after the suicide of Nirvana lead man Kurt Cobain, Metal long since past it’s glory days & punk still not having gotten it’s second wind Oasis introduced the second British invasion. With the constant storyline of the ever-bickering Gallagher brothers it would seem music would suffer (it eventually did), but it was just the opposite. What’s the Story Morning Glory? was one of the best selling albums of the 90s with 20 million records sold. The influence of the Beatles is hard to deny with “Imagine” being intertwined with the opening notes of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” & “Wonderwall” being the first Beatles solo album, a movie George Harrison provided the soundtrack for. In all reality, as previously alluded to, this was the beginning of the end for Oasis. After this, their third album was just not the same critically or profit wise as people grew tired of the bickering Gallagher’s & their antics.

Don’t Look Back in Anger – Oasis

Wonderwall – Oasis

#168 – Paul’s Boutique – The Beastie Boys

Take three Jewish kids from Brooklyn who can rap & like magic you have the Beastie Boys. Three of the biggest legends of rap. Together with the Dust Brothers, who had previously worked on Tone Loc’s album “Loc’d After Dark” they created Paul’s Boutique. An album that initially did not sell well, but was hailed by critics with Rolling Stone calling it, “the Pet Sounds/Dark Side of the Moon of Hip-Hop.” Samples of Curtis Mayfield’s, “Superfly” turned up on, “The Eggman” which also included samples of “Pump it Up” by Elvis Costello, the “Jaws Theme” by John Williams & “Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone. Today this is considered one of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history for the breakthrough Dust Brothers/Beastie Boys sound. “Eggman” & “Hey Ladies” were posted here previously so here are two others from the album.

The Sounds of Science – Beastie Boys

Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun – Beastie Boys

#167 – One of These Nights – The Eagles

One of These Nights is one of the last albums where the Eagles stay true to form of their original ideal of becoming the 70’s version of the Byrd’s. Flashes of the pop-rock band they were to become show in songs like the title track, but their country roots shine in others like “Lyin’ Eyes” & “Take it to the Limit”. Because of the seemingly new direction they were headed in, Bernie Leadon chose to leave the band after this album came out & was quickly replaced by Joe Walsh. It was after this that Don Henley & Glenn Frey began to exert more control & change the direction to more of a stylized/slick rock sound.

Lyin’ Eyes – The Eagles

Take it to the Limit – The Eagles

#166 – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill – Lauryn Hill

Hearkening back to a soul sound that hadn’t been heard since the 60’s, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was an album that rivaled anything Mary J. Blige has ever put out. A crowning achievement in the soul music genre & in the career of ex-Fugees singer, Lauryn Hill, the album discussed many themes. Those themes primarily revolved around the struggles of African-Americans including relations with one another as on the track, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” that speaks to African-American men & women caught in “the struggle”. Both the women who “try to be a hard rock when they really are a gem” & the men who are “more concerned with rims & Tims, than his women” are admonished by Hill who warns them not to allow “That thing” whatever it is to tuin their lives.

Doo Wop (That Thing) – Lauryn Hill

I Used to Love Him – Lauryn Hill

#165 – The Marshall Mathers LP – Eminem

Violent, angry, brooding, misogynistic & comical is how one could describe Eminem’s third album, The Marshall Mathers LP. With tracks like “Kill You” which speaks of his hatred for his mother in some of the most despicable, graphic ways imaginable, but one can’t help but be engaged while listening to songs like “Stan”.

“Stan” is a story of a fan who is obsessed with Eminem and writes to him but doesn’t receive a reply. Stan drives his car off a bridge with his pregnant girlfriend in the trunk. The first three verses are delivered by Stan, the first two in letter form and the third being spoken as he is about to drive off a bridge and is recording a cassette with the intent (but, he realizes too late, not the means) to send it to Eminem. The song makes heavy use of sound effects, with rain and thunder heard in the background, as well as pencil scratchings during the first two verses, and then as Stan drives off the bridge, listeners hear tires screeching and a crashing sound, followed by a splash of water, in a style similar to the 1964 songs “Dead Man’s Curve” and “Leader of the Pack”. The fourth verse is Eminem responding to Stan, only realizing at the last second that he has heard about Stan’s death on the news as he was writing to him.

The song can also be interpreted as a reply at Eminem’s critics, who accuse him of promoting drugs and violence, because it creates a scenario that clearly shows that his rap lyrics are not meant to be taken seriously, “what’s this shit you said about you like to cut your wrists too? I say that shit just clownin’ dogg, c’mon – how fucked up is you?”

The song was produced by The 45 King and samples the first couple of lines of “Thank You” by Dido as the chorus. Say what you will about the content what can’t be underestimated is that Eminem did for white rappers what Vanilla Ice never could. This album made Eminem hated by so many interest group yet he persevered selling 1.6 million albums in the first week. Whther you think that is good or bad the album is filled with rhymes & beats that defined rap for the better part of this decade.

Stan – Eminem

Kill You – Eminem

#164 – The Specials – The Specials

Picking up where the great Jamaican ska/two-tone bands of the 60’s left off The Specials self-titled debut album was summarily an homage to those two-tone/ska bands/artists that left an indelible impact on the genre. Artists such as: Lee “Scratch” Perry, Prince Buster, Toots & the Maytals & of course Dandy Livingstone who’s 1967 single “A Message to You, Rudy” became of the Specials most popular songs. Trombonist, Rico Rodriguez, who performed on many of the 50’s/60’s Jamaican recordings, before moving to London in 1962, played on The Specials version as he had on the original recording 15 years earlier. As a former member of the legendary band The Skatalites, a band that helped define the sound of ska & reggae, Rico’s appearance on the album considerably added to the Specials credentials.

Too Hot – The Specials

Message to You, Rudy – The Specials

#163 – Paranoid – Black Sabbath

Paranoid is the album that Tony Iommi made his name on. One of the most influential heavy metal albums of all-time, Paranoid, put Black Sabbath on the map with “Iron Man” & the delusional tale “paranoid”. With Tony Iommi wailing on the guitar & Ozzy Osbourne’s most inspired vocals as his range is evident even in the   heavy rock anthems. While the album is considered a heavy metal masterpiece there are nonetheless mellow songs such as “Planet Caravan” with Ozzy using the Leslie Speaker to create the dream-like vocals. “Iron Man’ which won a best metal performance Grammy in 2000, 30 years after it was released is one of the best songs on the album as is the unassuming anti-war song “War Pigs” which questions the logic of sending others to die for selfish causes you won’t fight for yourself.

Planet Caravan – Black Sabbath

Paranoid – Black Sabbath

#162 – Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles

Perhaps the most underrated of all the Beatles albums, Magical Mystery Tour is a psychedelic tour de force as it weaves in and out of brilliant compositions. The revolutionary use of looping techniques was an inspiration to many up and coming bands as was the movie that this soundtrack was made for. Magical Mystery Tour was the first Beatles film project following the death of manager Brian Epstein in August 1967, and there has been much speculation that the absence of Epstein’s judgment contributed to its undisciplined production, as seen, for instance, in the absence of a screenplay and professional direction. The film originally appeared twice on BBC-TV over the 1967 Christmas holidays (first in black and white, then in colour on BBC2), but was savaged by critics on its release; it was, however, noted by Steven Spielberg in film school (according to McCartney in one of the interviews for The Beatles Anthology: “I’ve read that people like him have sort of said, ‘When I was in school that was a film we really took notice of…’ like an art film, you know, rather than a proper film).

Strawberry Fields Forever – The Beatles

All You Need is Love – The Beatles

#161 – Superfly – Curtis Mayfield

Widely considered a classic of 1970s soul/funk, Superfly was a nearly immediate hit. Its sales were bolstered by two million-selling singles, “Freddie’s Dead” (#2 R&B, #4 Pop) and the title track (#5 R&B, #8 Pop). “Superfly” is one of the few soundtracks to out-gross the film it accompanied.

Superfly, along with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, was one of the pioneering soul concept albums, with its then-unique socially aware lyrics about poverty and drug abuse making the album stand out. The film and the soundtrack may be perceived as dissonant, since the Super Fly film holds rather ambiguous—some will say sympathetic—views on drug dealers, whereas Curtis Mayfield’s position is far more critical.

Like What’s Going On, the album was a surprise hit that record executives felt had little chance at significant sales. Due to its success, Mayfield was tapped for several film soundtracks over the course of the decade.

Superfly – Curtis Mayfield

Pusherman – Curtis Mayfield

#160 – Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin’s greatest song, regardless of what you think about “Respect”, is “Natural Woman”. Her vocal range is never better that in this soft ballad about recognizing the one you’re with accepts you for who & what you are. Written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King it got up to #8 on the Billboard Charts. Not only did Aretha have the most powerful voice in the business, the best songwriters at her disposal, she also had one of the best backing bands around. A band that included none other than Sam Cooke’s former guitarist Bobby Womack, who himself would go on to cover “Natural Woman’, changing it to “Natural Man” & also his classic “Across 100th Street”. All these elements aligned to make Lady Soul a brilliant near operatic masterpiece for Aretha Franklin and female soul musicians in general.

Chain of Fools – Aretha Franklin

Natural Woman – Aretha Franklin

You Just Keep On Using Me Until You Use Me Up

Lately for some reason I’ve been on this huge soul kick. Let me rephrase that I’ve been on a huge late 60s/70s soul kick. I’ve said this before, but I suppose it bears repeating that soul just isn’t the same as it used to be. Guitar driven rock is making a comeback in a big way with such groups as Kings of Leon, My Morning Jacket & The Gaslight Anthem leading the way. But soul just hasn’t followed suit. There was hope maybe a decade ago with the emergence of D’Angelo but he quickly faded into obscurity.

Don’t talk to me about Erykah Badu or Mary J. Blige. Not soul. Not as far as I’m concerned. Soul is Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding or Bill Withers. This was the “hey-day” of soul. The sound that served as a soundtrack to so much of 70s blaxploitation films is relegated to mere curiosity as so much of today’s soul is pop driven garbage. Maybe 30 years from now someone will get on their soap box and proclaim Jill Scott as one of the best female vocalists of a generation, but frankly I just don’t see it & believe me I’ve tried.

As far as I’m concerned Bill Withers just epitomized what soul music in the 70s was all about…funky, soulful with a voice that could melt butter. When he sings it sounds almost effortless as he begs the woman he’s with to keep using him as she sees fit. Watch how tight the musicians are in the video from a 1973 BBC concert. The drummer is my favorite with his Bootsie Collins glasses, big afro & killer outfit.

Bill WithersUse Me (Live @ Carnegie Hall)

Bill Withers @ The BBC

Always Starting Over But Somehow I Always Know Where to Begin

Frequently, I am asked what music I like, what music inspires me. It fluctuates…I mean there are the stand-bys that I can turn to, to get pumped up. Survivor’s, “Eye of the Tiger” is great for those cheesy 80s moments. When getting ready for a special night with the little woman maybe I’ll toss on some Otis Redding or Sam Cooke to get into a soulful mood. Why do we feel the need to use black artists as getting ready to make sweet lovin’ music? I’m sure they don’t mind, but it just seems weird. I assume it’s cause white people have no soul. I can attest to that, I am in fact soulless as are Rick Astley, Michael Bolton and Oates from Hall and Oates.

I digress, music can inspire you in different ways. Sometimes a song inspires you to get wicked stoned, lay back and feel the music flow through you. Other times, it makes you want to better yourself in some way or achieve something greater than you have previously. Usually, for me, at least, music inspires me to write. This article for instance was inspired by My Morning Jacket’s, “Where to Begin”. My life is in a constant state of flux that I am attempting to change, not just be listening to good music but by adjusting the way I live. It’s not always easy, but essential to my survival as an adult-American (that is a designation I have just invented, trademarked bitches).

Where to begin is a haunting ballad off the Elizabethtown soundtrack, a decent movie even though it stars Snaggletooth Dunst and Orlando Bloom. All you really need to know is that Cameron Crowe wrote and directed it. The song details the feelings one feels as they try to excel in life and realize they aren’t really going anywhere. You keep trying to get over that mountain and once you do you realize that there are really a series of mountains left to climb. You go through many points in life where your friends carry you on their backs out of love, respect, loyalty, but at the end of the day you realize that it is you who must fend for yourself. It is you who must decide what path is best to insure your own happiness.

There inevitably come points where you say, “I’m over it.” & think about quitting, becoming complacent. You may even do so for a while, but that something triggers in your head that you must try, you must achieve some semblance of a stabilization that get’s you to the goals you had as that wide eyed innocent child who had not a care in the world, but knew they could do anything they wanted. It is that innocence in all of us that we desperately try to cling to as the world caves in around us. It is that feeling of the “World is Mine” that we hearken back to when we realize that we’re not where we want to be.

When I’m at my lowest point I can find a song and realize that the beauty of a tune, a lyric can bring me out of my malaise & back to the light, as it were (insert Poltergeist quote here). It is how I communicate my feelings, my general state of mind, if you will. It is how I show my gratitude to those that have helped me, stood by me & really been true friends. Things like that go along way in my book and are not soon forgotten.

My Morning JacketWhere to Begin