Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sam Cooke, by Sam Cooke (March, 1958)

Brad's Take:

Sam Cooke's self titled solo debut was originally released in the US in 1957, but our book lists the UK release date of 1958.

Sam Cooke started out singing lead vocals in the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. It wasn't until 1956 that he wanted to try crossing over to pop music. In those days, it was frowned upon for nice gospel boys to sing pop music. In order to not be chastised, he released his first pop single "Lovable" under the alias Dale Cook, but his voice was too recognizable and it didn't actually trick anyone.

This album is definitely worthy of the "classic" title. His voice really makes these songs amazing. I love his voice's tone and powerful it sounds at times. He sounds young and excited to be doing something different than gospel music.

The orchestration from Bumps Blackwell is near perfect as well. It doesn't sound much different than the other blues influenced pop albums at the time, but Bumps pulled it off very well. I'm sure that working with Little Richard a lot in his early days helped perfect his skills too.

Most of the songs on this album are slow to mid-tempo, but it's a really nice laid back record. I'll definitely give this more than one spins.

Dad's Take:

This album sends me. OK, cheap joke, but I couldn't resist. Plus it's true.

There's a lot here I've never heard, or at least that I haven't heard from Sam Cooke. Most of the songs are pop standards, but the Sam Cooke treatment works well. The R&B fusion with jazz and gospel works for me, and Cooke's voice is always flawless, even when matched with the wrong song. Cooke himself was reportedly unhappy with the song selection, which he deemed inappropriate, but he recorded them well anyway. He makes it sound so easy. There are a couple songs I could live without ever hearing again, but overall, it's a solid record.

Several of these fifties records make me look forward to music becoming more album-oriented a few years down our list. Sometimes the filler is a little too obvious. This album feels more complete than, say, the Jerry Lee Lewis record we reviewed recently, but it's definitely a collection of songs rather than a unified album.

But you can't really knock an album for being put together the way it was done back in those days. The important thing here is that Sam Cooke could sing, and the instrumental arrangements are good, even if nothing breaks new ground here. The song selection is satisfying, for the most part. The oddest choices are probably "Danny Boy" (Sam Cooke just doesn't sound all that Irish, and the R&B treatment is unintentionally funny) and "Tammy," which is just kind of a dorky song, written for a teen girl singer.

This is one of those records a kid could listen to when his parents were home, without freaking them out. But then, it has a number of songs that the parents would have known. Fortunately, they are done well.

Good record. Mostly.

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