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R&B - Released January 1, 1964 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Soul - Released September 12, 2005 | RCA - Legacy

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Saddled with soaring strings and vocal choruses for maximum crossover potential, Sam Cooke's solo material often masked the most important part of his genius -- his glorious voice -- so the odd small-group date earns a special recommendation in his discography. Thankfully, Cooke's voice took center stage on this admirably low-key session from February 1963, recorded in Los Angeles with a quartet of studio veterans. Unlike so many session crews and producers of the time, these musicians gave him plenty of space and often simply framed Cooke's breathtaking vocals. (On one of the best tracks here, "Lost and Lookin'," he's barely accompanied at all; only bass and cymbals can be heard far in the background.) The results are wonderful -- except for his early Soul Stirrers sides, Night Beat is the best place to marvel at one of the two or three best voices of the century. The songs are intimate blues, most taken at the pace of a late-night stroll, but despite the dark shading and heart-rending tempos, Cooke's voice is so transcendent it's difficult to become depressed while listening. Cooke also wrote three of the songs, including the excellent "Mean Old World," and rendered the traditional "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" practically unfamiliar with his own re-arrangement. Cooke also stretches out on a pair of jump blues classics, "Little Red Rooster" and "Shake, Rattle and Roll," summoning some honest grit for the former and putting the uptown swing into the latter. He also allows some solo space, from Barney Kessel's simple, unadorned solo on "Get Yourself Another Fool" to Billy Preston's playful organ vocalizing on "Little Red Rooster." If Sam Cooke had lived longer, there would've been several more sessions like this, but Night Beat is an even richer treasure for its rarity. ~ John Bush
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Rock - Released January 1, 1964 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Soul - Released September 26, 2000 | RCA Records Label

This set is near essential to fans of Sam Cooke, despite the fact that it contains none of his gospel recordings for Specialty Records or any of the work from the final year of his career (owned by ABKCO Records). Scattered every few minutes across this four-disc collection are reminders of just how far ahead of all existing musical forms Cooke was, creating sounds that stretched the definitions of song genres as they were understood and created completely new categories. Indeed, he was so successful that it's easy to underestimate the impact and importance of many of his early triumphs. "You Send Me," which opens this set, may seem today like the safest, tamest pop music, but in 1957 it was a genre-bending single, a new kind of R&B/pop music hybrid and one that quietly shook the foundations of the music business when it hit number one. Disc one offers a fresh appreciation of the best of the early Keen Records sides, drawing on the best of nearly two years of singles and the strongest of Cooke's LP tracks in the best account to date of his early career in popular music. Disc two begins Cooke's RCA years, and the quality of his singles, which clearly and easily bridge the gap between genres, races, and generations, improves dramatically. The development of Cooke's writing and singing and his growing confidence and range culminate with disc four, which encompasses the Night Beat album and Cooke's live performance from the Harlem Square Club. The sound is extraordinary throughout, expansive, rich-textured, and vividly detailed; a choice earlier CD release, The Man and His Music, by comparison, sounds thin and tinny. ~ Bruce Eder
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R&B - Released January 1, 1964 | ABKCO

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Soul - Released August 16, 2005 | RCA - Legacy

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Not only is this one of the greatest live soul albums ever released, it also reveals a rougher, rawer, and more immediate side to Sam Cooke that his singles only hinted at, good as they were. Working with a merged band that included guitarist Cliff White and drummer Albert "June" Gardner from Cooke's regular touring outfit and saxophonist King Curtis and his band, Cooke brings a gospel fervor to these whirlwind versions, which are fiery, emotionally direct, and hit with uncommon power. Every track burns with an insistent, urgent feel, and although Cooke practically defines melisma on his single releases, here he reaches past that into deeper territory that finds him almost literally shoving and pushing each song forward with shouts, asides, and spoken interactions with the audience, which becomes as much a part of this set as any bandmember. "Chain Gang" is stripped down to a raw nerve, "Twistin' the Night Away" explodes out of the gate like a runaway rocket, and Curtis' sax breaks on "Somebody Have Mercy" make it sound like the saxophone was invented for this one song alone. Throughout Cooke's voice is a raspy laser that makes it obvious what Rod Stewart picked up from this recording, and it is impossible not to hear Cooke's voice looming behind Stewart's once you've heard this amazing live set. Although recorded January 12, 1963, at the Harlem Square Club in Miami in 1963, RCA didn't release it as an album until 1985. The set was remixed from the original first generation three-track tape for 2000's The Man Who Invented Soul box, and while the music (and Cooke's vocals in particular) sounded much cleaner, much of the crowd noise from the 1985 mixes was toned down, robbing the recording of some of its claustrophobic, frenzied power. The mix used here seems to more or less split the difference, but the crucial key is and was always Cooke's vocals, and while he was a marvelously smooth, versatile, and urbane singer on his official pop recordings, here he explodes into one of the finest sets of raw secular gospel ever captured on tape. It is essential listening in any version. ~ Steve Leggett
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Pop - Released February 19, 2016 | RCA - Legacy

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R&B - Released January 1, 1964 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

Sam Cooke at the Copa was a frustrating record. One of a handful of live albums by a major soul artist of its era, it captured Cooke in excellent voice, and was well-recorded -- it just wasn't really a "soul" album, except perhaps in the tamest possible definition of that term. Playing to an upscale, largely white supper-club audience, in a very conservatively run venue where he had previously failed to impress either patrons or the management, Cooke toned down his performance and chose the safest material with which he could still be comfortable. In place of songs like "Feel It," "Bring It on Home to Me," or even "Cupid," which were part of his usual set, he performed numbers like "The Best Things in Life Are Free," "Bill Bailey," and "When I Fall in Love" here. True, his renditions may be the versions of any of those songs that an R&B fan will like best, but they always seemed a poor substitute for what's not here -- not just the songs that he didn't do, but the intense, sweaty presentation, as much a sermon as a concert, the pounding beat, and the crowd being driven into ever-more frenzied delight. ~ Bruce Eder
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R&B - Released January 1, 1960 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

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R&B - Released January 15, 2016 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

Sam Cooke released two albums in 1963, and the second, Night Beat, is often cited as the best of all his long-players. But the first, Mr. Soul, shouldn't be ignored, despite some flaws in its conception and execution. At the time, the powers-that-were at RCA Victor didn't know which audience to aim for with Cooke's albums. LPs were seldom huge sellers among teenage listeners, so the notion of trying to connect to an adult audience -- à la Nat King Cole -- probably seemed logical, and Mr. Soul suffered somewhat from this uncertainty of purpose and audience; it is a soul album, to be sure, but by the standards of the time a somewhat tentative one in many spots. Unlike Night Beat, which was an exercise in production restraint, Mr. Soul is over-produced and relies too much on strings where they aren't needed and choruses that are overdone, even when they work. But Cooke rises above all of it, and turns even some of the more questionably arranged songs, such as "Send Me Some Lovin'," into mini-masterpieces. A couple of tracks off of this album, "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons" and "Nothing Can Change This Love," were part of Cooke's live repertoire at the time and have, indeed, found a separate life on various compilations, but the rest was unavailable for over 45 years, until Sony/BMG re-released most of Cooke's RCA library. The best of that rest -- which is most of it -- shows him still rising to the peak of his powers, his voice wrapping itself around lyrics and melodies that might seem too familiar ("Cry Me a River," etc.) and bland, and making them much more significant and powerful than they seemingly have a right to be. The strings are overworked at times, but where they are held back, as on "Little Girl," their presence only adds to the impact of the track -- and elsewhere, Cooke quietly overpowers them. Modern listeners should bear in mind that, as a soul album, this is a fairly laid-back record -- those expecting anything like the exuberance of Otis Redding, or Clyde McPhatter or Ben E. King, may be disappointed at first; Cooke does work up a sweat on various parts and phrases, but a lot of what is here, by virtue of the label's wishes for a crossover record, is what might be terms "cool" soul -- smooth and sometimes bluesy, in a low-key way, quietly emotive on numbers such as "These Foolish Things," with the hot moments in special abundance on numbers like "Chains of Love" and "Send Me Some Lovin'." But even in these cool, restrained settings, Cooke's was still one of the finest voices of his century, and worth taking in for every breath and nuance. ~ Bruce Eder
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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

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International Pop - Released September 5, 2018 | IMI LTD

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

Sam Cooke began his career as a gospel singer, and after two pop-oriented LPs, the label and Cooke's producers, Hugo & Luigi, decided to play to that side of his repertoire and reputation for this, his third album. Certainly opening the album with the traditional spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and using it as the title track was an acknowledgment of his history. Despite some intersections with his gospel roots and his past history with the Soul Stirrers, however, this album isn't quite what one would expect from its title -- most of Swing Low consists of pop repertoire (including Broadway material), albeit songs that have a devotional, reflective aspect, or a spiritual tone, and the production is very full, if not quite as overblown as some of the songs recorded elsewhere in Cooke's RCA library. The choir and brass are slightly overdone on the title song, but almost everything else is a study in understatement that plays to the quiet strength in Cooke's voice -- "I'm Just a Country Boy," "They Call the Wind Maria" (from Paint Your Wagon), "Twilight on the Trail," and "If I Had You" combine with the title song and the single "Chain Gang" to make side one of this album a masterpiece of subtlety, and one of the high points of Cooke's early LP output. If parts of his other early-'60s RCA albums represent a tragedy of wasted opportunities, through bad song choices or worse arrangements, Swing Low falls on the other side of that line, bringing home what could (and should) have been -- one hears a phenomenal talent moving in almost precisely the right direction. Side two is a little weaker in focus, digressing back to a trio of 19th century chestnuts, "Grandfather's Clock," "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," and "Long, Long Ago," which Cooke's voice does elevate. And then we get to Johnnie Taylor's "Pray," the highlight of the album in Cooke's hands, and a song and performance that bring the focus back where it should be. The album closes with "You Belong to Me," an original by Cooke and J.W. Alexander, and the Antonin Dvorák-spawned spiritual "Goin' Home" -- the arrangement of the latter almost swings a little too much, but finally comes off well, and both can be counted among the finest things Cooke ever cut for a long-player and, along with "Pray," among his must-own performances. In contrast to many of the singer's early RCA LPs, where one must pick and choose the jewels from among weaker moments, Swing Low is the man and the voice in much of their glory across most of the album. ~ Bruce Eder
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R&B - Released January 1, 1959 | Keen Records

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

Sam Cooke's voice is justifiably legendary, but most of his RCA albums are astonishingly little-known today, and My Kind of Blues explains why this is so, at least in part. The singing is superb throughout, but the repertoire, even in 1961, was not terribly well defined or the recordings well arranged. The basic problem lay in the nature of Cooke's career arc, which probably straddled too many styles and musical worlds for his own good -- the spiritual and the secular, pop and rock & roll, and pop and soul, all as defined in his time (which was, effectively, from the early '50s to the early '60s). The "blues" as a label on an album had a much wider meaning than it would have had at the other end of the decade, or any time since -- Cooke was part of a world where adult pop still held sway and seemed, at least for the LP market, a more attractive target than the teenage or even collegiate audiences of the time. Thus, the "blues" heard here would have been appropriate for a mainstream singer -- say, Sinatra, or Nat King Cole -- circa 1961 (or, really, about 1957 -- Cooke's producers were very conservative) -- rather than what most listeners today would call blues. Brassy, big-scale orchestrations abound, and even the leaner textured songs, such as "Little Girl Blue" and "You're Always on My Mind," rely on a reed or horn section, respectively, to augment the electric guitar, piano, bass, and brushed drums at the core of their arrangements. Some of this works beautifully, as on "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," which was a good enough song to make it into Cooke's set at his Copa appearances, and, along with a handful of other tracks here, also onto the compilation The Rhythm and the Blues (and the box set The Man Who Invented Soul). All of this is what would probably be called "smooth blues" (assuming it is defined as blues at all in a modern sense); it's more soul of a pop variety. But Cooke's voice carries it -- even the weakest arrangements and material get elevated, as the best of Cooke's interpretive instincts overcome the worst of his producers' instincts. Given its limitations, My Kind of Blues was never going to be a defining album in Cooke's output, and had he lived past 1964 it almost certainly would have been relegated to his "early period" in a full career. Its strongest moments, of which there are many, stand on their own, however, and the leanest of the arrangements point the way toward greater things that were to come, including the best parts of Mr. Soul and the whole Night Beat album. ~ Bruce Eder
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Rock - Released November 10, 2014 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

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Some 46 years after his first pop hit, and 39 years after his death, comes only the second attempt at a comprehensive Sam Cooke collection. Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 eclipses RCA's early-'80s The Man and His Music, going it better in running time but losing some important recordings -- "That's Heaven to Me" and "Soothe Me," arguably one of Cooke's most important songs -- in the process of summing up his career. From 1951's Soul Stirrers' gospel classic "Touch the Hem of His Garment" through to 1964's "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "Shake," we get highlights of Cooke's career presented in state-of-the-art digital audio; superior in every way possible to the audio quality of The Man and His Music. What's more, this is a hybrid disc with SACD capability, and the sound on that layer is almost as much of a jump above the quality on the CD layer as this remastering is from the old The Man and His Music disc; and either the standard CD or the SACD playback makes that 1980s-issued compilation sound faint and anemic. There's also annotation here -- which was totally lacking on the earlier CD -- by Peter Guralnick, which delves very effectively into the background of each song. And the producers have taken the trouble to be a little inventive in the programming -- it would have been easy enough to follow a strict chronological approach, but instead the disc opens and closes with tracks that reveal Cooke's gospel roots, which is pretty much where his music started and where it ended up, bookending his first hit with songs from his first session ever. ~ Bruce Eder
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Gospel - Released January 1, 1960 | ABKCO

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Sam Cooke in the magazine