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Soul - Released September 12, 1963 | 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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1964 | ABKCO Music and Records, Inc.

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
The last of his studio albums released in his lifetime, Sam Cooke's Ain't That Good News offers a lot of superb material, pointing in several directions that, alas, were to go largely unexplored. The central number is, of course, the earth-shattering "A Change Is Gonna Come," with its soaring gospel sound and the most elaborate production of any song in Cooke's output. The rousing though less substantial title track also came out of a gospel tradition, as does Cooke's treatment of "Tennessee Waltz," which is one of his finest adaptations of contemporary pop material. "Falling in Love" was the work of Harold Battiste, an old friend of Cooke's who had recently re-entered his orbit and was partly responsible for encouraging the singer in exploring the New Orleans sound that was evident on "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day" and "Meet Me at Mary's Place." And then there's "Good Times," a bittersweet, introspective party number, and the pensive successor to "Twistin' the Night Away." There are a few moments where the spell is almost broken by the intrusion of what seems like pop material, but even Cooke's version of "The Riddle Song" is worth owning as a glimpse at how he could turn a folk song into a something so quietly soulful that its origins disappeared. With the exception of "Another Saturday Night," which had been released as a single early in the previous year, Ain't That Good News comprised the first material that Cooke had recorded in the six months following the drowning death of his 18-month-old son Vincent; it was also the first album that Cooke recorded and released under his new contract, which gave him greater freedom in choosing repertory and sidemen than he'd ever had, and so it offered a lot of pent-up emotional and musical expression, and, as it turned out, was tragically unique in the singer's output. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1960 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

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 /TiVo
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Soul - Released August 16, 1963 | 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 /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1964 | ABKCO Music and Records, Inc.

ABKCO Records made the most of Barack Obama quoting Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" in his 2008 Election Day victory speech--the week of Obama's inauguration, they released a five-song EP, headed by and titled after the aforementioned tune. The other songs are among Cooke's most optimistic and inspirational, perfectly capturing the dawn-of-a-new-era mood that prevailed when Obama took the reigns. Oh, and all five tracks happen to be grade-A soul classics, too. © TiVo
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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

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Pop - Released February 19, 2016 | RCA - Legacy

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Rock - Released January 1, 1960 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

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Soul - Released February 7, 2012 | RCA - Legacy

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R&B - Released January 1, 1965 | Specialty Records

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R&B - Released January 15, 2002 | ABKCO Music and Records, Inc.

This 23-song rarities compilation stands in Sam Cooke's output roughly where the four posthumous LPs released by Otis Redding stand in his catalog, with the major difference that Cooke's work included far fewer leftovers and sides that were justified simply by being available -- he seemed to throw a special effort into almost everything that ever recorded, and that goes double for this disc's content, which encompasses the final year of his recording career. This was a period in which he explored several promising musical directions and broke through both to an extraordinarily sophisticated synthesis of his gospel roots with topical songwriting within a pop context. Listeners won't find his most popular songs -- "You Send Me", "Chain Gang", "Only Sixteen", etc. -- here, a result of the split control of his catalog between RCA and ABKCO, but they will find his most important and influential songs. Cooke was inactive in the studio for a significant chunk of 1963, following the drowning death of his infant son, and when he resumed work late in the year it was under a new contract that was to ultimately give control and ownership of his recordings to him (or, as events worked out, his manager, Allen Klein). Represented here is his foray into a New Orleans sound, on "Basin Street Blues" etc., which he'd never explored before (and which he shaped his own way) as well as his poignant recording of "The Riddle Song", which was a way of his coming to terms musically with the death of his son; and "Good Times", the somber-toned party song of Cooke's that the Rolling Stones chose to cover, and the equally pensive and compelling "Another Saturday Night", a relic of the first half of 1963 that fits equally well with this later material. On any other R&B collection, all of those tracks would be perceived as extraordinarily fine records, but Cooke himself raised the bar so high during the final months of his career, that they pale next to the most important of his songs: "Shake", which embodied a harder, more visceral soul sound than Cooke had ever embraced before; and "A Change Is Gonna Come". The latter, written by Cooke in the wake of his hearing Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind", seemed to tie up his origins as a gospel singer with all that he had learned and experienced in the ensuing decade and, channeled through the topical subject of civil rights, became his greatest musical achievement -- not his biggest hit, or his best known song even today, but his most accomplished piece of composition, singing, and recording. Cooke never had a chance to follow up either, and died before he could even assess the impact of either song -- ironically, it was Otis Redding (who died almost three years later to the day) that took them into his repertory most successfully; so this disc not only brings us to the final, magnificent phase of Cooke's career, but also shows the door that he opened for Otis Redding and others. Keep Movin' On should probably not be the only Sam Cooke compilation that a neophyte fan should buy, mostly because it covers only his late career and leaves out a lot of essential material, but it is an absolutely essential companion (along with the Harlem Square Club live set) to his finest compilation, Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964, or the box set Man Who Invented Soul, finishing the story that they start. Most of what's here had never been available digitally before, and even the tracks that had are improved so significantly in the quality of their transfer, that they're like new releases. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 15, 2002 | Abkco Music & Records, Inc.

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This 23-song rarities compilation stands in Sam Cooke's output roughly where the four posthumous LPs released by Otis Redding stand in his catalog, with the major difference that Cooke's work included far fewer leftovers and sides that were justified simply by being available -- he seemed to throw a special effort into almost everything that ever recorded, and that goes double for this disc's content, which encompasses the final year of his recording career. This was a period in which he explored several promising musical directions and broke through both to an extraordinarily sophisticated synthesis of his gospel roots with topical songwriting within a pop context. Listeners won't find his most popular songs -- "You Send Me", "Chain Gang", "Only Sixteen", etc. -- here, a result of the split control of his catalog between RCA and ABKCO, but they will find his most important and influential songs. Cooke was inactive in the studio for a significant chunk of 1963, following the drowning death of his infant son, and when he resumed work late in the year it was under a new contract that was to ultimately give control and ownership of his recordings to him (or, as events worked out, his manager, Allen Klein). Represented here is his foray into a New Orleans sound, on "Basin Street Blues" etc., which he'd never explored before (and which he shaped his own way) as well as his poignant recording of "The Riddle Song", which was a way of his coming to terms musically with the death of his son; and "Good Times", the somber-toned party song of Cooke's that the Rolling Stones chose to cover, and the equally pensive and compelling "Another Saturday Night", a relic of the first half of 1963 that fits equally well with this later material. On any other R&B collection, all of those tracks would be perceived as extraordinarily fine records, but Cooke himself raised the bar so high during the final months of his career, that they pale next to the most important of his songs: "Shake", which embodied a harder, more visceral soul sound than Cooke had ever embraced before; and "A Change Is Gonna Come". The latter, written by Cooke in the wake of his hearing Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind", seemed to tie up his origins as a gospel singer with all that he had learned and experienced in the ensuing decade and, channeled through the topical subject of civil rights, became his greatest musical achievement -- not his biggest hit, or his best known song even today, but his most accomplished piece of composition, singing, and recording. Cooke never had a chance to follow up either, and died before he could even assess the impact of either song -- ironically, it was Otis Redding (who died almost three years later to the day) that took them into his repertory most successfully; so this disc not only brings us to the final, magnificent phase of Cooke's career, but also shows the door that he opened for Otis Redding and others. Keep Movin' On should probably not be the only Sam Cooke compilation that a neophyte fan should buy, mostly because it covers only his late career and leaves out a lot of essential material, but it is an absolutely essential companion (along with the Harlem Square Club live set) to his finest compilation, Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964, or the box set Man Who Invented Soul, finishing the story that they start. Most of what's here had never been available digitally before, and even the tracks that had are improved so significantly in the quality of their transfer, that they're like new releases. © Bruce Eder /TiVo
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Soul - Released July 7, 2020 | Remember that Records

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Soul - Released December 3, 2020 | The Good Old Sam Records

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Gospel - Released January 1, 2002 | Fantasy Records

They were known as the Soul Stirrers when they did the 1951-1957 recordings on this three-CD, 84-song collection. It's billed to Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers, though, as it's the ultimate collection of sides he recorded as a member of the group for Specialty Records, along with seven tentative secular pop/rock sides he did for the label as a solo singer in 1956. Cooke doesn't sing lead on all of the Soul Stirrers' tracks, though there are plenty of his leads to hear throughout the set; he shares lead duties with Paul Foster, although by the end of his time in the outfit, Cooke was taking most of the solo leads. There's also one cut, "All Right Now," on which Cooke shares lead with Rev. Julius Cheeks (two alternate versions of the song are also on the set). Even if Cooke isn't always the solo lead, however, he's a big presence on all of these sides, which represent both an important summary of his career prior to achieving pop stardom and a major body of gospel music. While much of the material is traditional (with Cooke contributing some originals), the arrangements do evolve, including some drums, organ, piano, bass, and electric guitar at various points. The link between gospel, R&B, and rock & roll becomes evident to more secular-minded listeners, sometimes strikingly so in Cooke's phrasing, which, even on songs as far back as 1953 ("I'd Give up All My Sins and Serve the Lord"), contained clear antecedents to his vocals on his first breakthrough pop hit, "You Send Me." Naturally those antecedents are heard strongest on the seven 1956 solo cuts that represented his first pop ventures, and although these are on the innocuous side, they're enjoyable foreshadowings of his rock & roll years. Numerous alternate takes and three 1955 live songs (with good sound) complete the most comprehensive portrait of Cooke's gospel years. Note, though, that the version of "I'll Come Running Back to You" -- a Top 20 entry in the wake of "You Send Me" -- lacks the overdub on the hit single. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo

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Sam Cooke in the magazine