Written by Nicola McCrudden
I first heard Sam Cooke when his 1960 hit Wonderful World was used in the Levi 501 Jeans advertisement in 1985, along with Percy Sledge and Marvin Gaye, who were also included in others during the same period. This gave me, and many others, a renewed interest in 1960s soul and propelled the song to the No.2 spot in the UK charts. The following February RCA released a new compilation album, The Man And His Music, containing some of Cooke’s greatest hits.
That month it was Britannia Music Mail Order Record Club’s album of the month. My father brought it and that was the moment I discovered the richly beautiful and faultless voice of Sam Cooke, cementing myself as a fan of his for the rest of my life.
Many critics say that he compromised his art for stardom but I highly disagree with this assessment. Unlike Nat King Cole he never lost his gospel roots and bridged the gap between Pop, Soul, Gospel, and Blues so beautifully that it appealed to black, white, men, women, young and old paving the way for the Soul acts that followed to crossover to the mainstream.
His death at the age of 33 in 1964 marred his image for many years to come, this came at a time when he was becoming more politically outspoken with the growing civil rights movement. He would use his multiracial following to help the cause. Inspired by Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind, which he recorded, he finally wrote what would be his masterpiece, A Change Is Gonna Come.
At the time of his early death, when soul music was just becoming more popular along with his political voice reaching new heights we are left with a feeling of what could have been. His legacy in the music business should never be underestimated or forgotten with artists like Bruno Mars coming to prominence in the late 00s because of the groundwork he helped lay in the late 50s/early 60s.
So let’s go on a journey through my Top 10 Sam Cooke songs:
#10. Wonderful World | Album: The Wonderful World Of Sam Cook | 1960
Recorded in March 1959 during his last recording sessions for Keen, Wonderful World was written by Lou Adler, Herb Alpert, and Sam Cooke, but was credited to Barbra Campbell. Cooke signed to RCA Victor in 1960 but his first two singles failed to register on the charts. This song was discovered by Keen Records amongst unreleased recordings, releasing the track in direct competition with RCA and Cooke’s single You Understand Me. It outsold the RCA issue and became his second best-selling hit to that date, surpassing You Send Me, and charting at No.12 in the Billboard Hot 100, No.2 on the R&B Sides chart, and No.27 in the UK singles chart.
#9. You Send Me | Album: Sam Cooke | 1957
You Send Me took Sam Cooke from another soul singer-songwriter to a secular superstar. Written by Cooke but credited to his brother L.C. so his publishers could not profit from the song, as Cooke was moving his work to his own publishing company to establish himself financially. It reached No.1 in the R&B chart, it crossed over to the Pop chart, the Billboard Hot 100, reaching No.1. Teresa Brewer would cover the song with it reaching No.8 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was very common at the time. The B-Side was Summertime, a beautiful cover of the Billie Holiday classic, he would go on to record an entire tribute album to her in 1959.
#8. Win Your Love For Me | 1958
Win Your Love For Me was released as a single in 1958 with its B-side being Houseboat (Almost In Your Arms. It reached No.22 on the Billboard chart and No.4 on the R&B charts.
#7. Another Saturday Night | Album: Ain’t That Good News |1963
Another Saturday Night was released in 1963 with the B-side Love Will Find A Way. The song was written by Cooke while in London, at the time he was staying in a hotel where no female guests were allowed. It reached No.10 on the Billboard chart, No.1 on the R&B chart, and No.23 on the UK singles chart.
A tale of a guy who’s got the money, but not the gal to spend it on, the teen set won’t take the deck seriously, but will find it a highly pleasurable listening/dance floor treat.Cash Box
#6. Soothe Me | Album: Twistin’ the Night Away | 1962
Soothe Me was written by singer-songwriter Sam Cooke and would go on to be a hit single for the duo Sam & Dave. As an album track, there isn’t a lot of information on the track but it has become a fan favorite.
#5. Frankie and Johnny | 1963
Frankie and Johnny was released in 1963 with Cool Train as its B-side. It reached No.14 on the Billboard Hot 100, No.4 on the R&B charts, and No.30 on the UK singles chart. The traditional American song has also been recorded by both Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan. It tells the story of a woman, Frankie, who finds her man Johnny making love to another woman and shoots him dead. The song is inspired by one or more actual murders that took place in the late 1890s and one in 1832.
#4. Bring It On Home To Me | 1962
Bring It On Home To Me/Having A Party was released on 8th May 1962 reaching No.13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.2 on the R&B chart. Both songs were written while on tour by Sam Cooke being initially offered to Dee Clark but he turned it down. The song was his first serious nod to his gospel roots as he was aiming for a similar sound as his former band The Soul Stirrers.
Bring It On Home would go on to be a Pop staple with artists as diverse as The Animals, John Lennon, and The Chicks covering the song.
#3. Lost and Looking | Album: Night Beat | 1963
Lost and Looking was written by James W. Alexander and Lowell Jordan. This track actually only appeared on Cooke’s 1963 album Night Beat but is one of my personal favorites hence why it has ranked so high. It was recorded on the last night of a three-night session for Night Beat which was released in August 1963. This album and the track off of it are considered by contemporary critics to be some of his finest work, appearing on many best albums of all time lists.
#2. Nothing Can Change This Love | Album: Mr. Soul | 1963
Nothing Can Change This Love was released on 11th September 1962 and came in at No.12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.2 on the R&B chart. Its B-side Somebody Have Mercy also charted at No.70 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No.3 on the R&B chart. The song was released two and a half weeks after a late-night recording session, it was completed in eight takes, and rivaled the sales of Bring It On Home.
#1. A Change Is Gonna Come | Album: Ain’t That Good News | 1963
A Change Is Gonna Come is Sam Cooke at his most political being released as an album track in February 1964 on Ain’t That Good News, a slightly edited version would be released on 22nd December 1964, ten days after his death. Despite the song only being a modest hit it has gone on to be one of his most influential songs being inspired by an incident when Cooke and his entourage were turned away from a whites-only motel in Louisiana.
Sam Cooke was friends with other Civil Rights activists and black celebrities including Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and Jim Brown. His album Ain’t That Good News was a term also used in a Malcolm X speech known as ‘A Message to the Grassroots’ the previous December. A Change Is Gonna Come was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” and it is all three in my opinion.