Yeah, Sam Cooke. Now here is a man who possessed one of the purest voices of all time. This was the key to his success – the voice was so smooth that it easily crossed over from his gospel roots and R&B base straight to the white pop charts. Mr. Cooke straddled the transition from “silly” pop, doo-wop tunes to the real emergence of soul. Based on his recordings, I vehemently disagree with those who would say he invented soul music. (Ever hear of James Brown?) He certainly could have approached this honor if he didn’t have to go out and get himself killed by the night manager in some sort of dispute at a seedy “you know what happens there” motel. There’s no doubt that he was on the cusp of something that would have shattered the world of music. As it was, the man was in the midst of demonstrating an entrepreneurial independence almost unprecedented by a black singer. He was actually a step ahead of Berry Gordy in this regard. He was on the move, but not as fast as a speeding bullet. Super talent, but not Superman.
Mr. Cooke was visionary in appearing to recognize the monetary value in crossing over. To realize this, all one has to do is hear the differences between his “Live At The Harlem Square Club” and ” Live At The Copa” (1963-64). Radically different performances in front of radically different audiences. On top of everything else, he was delving into the teachings of the Muslim faith, something which would assuredly have impacted the message of his compositions. Man, I wish he hadn’t gotten himself shot – this would have been his even greater legacy. Somewhat of a preview of his coming events was revealed in one of his last tunes “A Change Is Gonna Come “. Why this incredibly influential number is omitted from this release is way beyond me. Hey, that reminds me, I’m supposed to be reviewing this particular disc. Alright, let’s go.
First off, the remastering by the legendary Bob Ludwig at his Gateway Studios is top-flight. The man might just be the best at what he does and succeeds wonderfully in squeezing every 1/10th ounce out of the master tapes. Just superb! Now, if Mr. Ludwig had been given more that 15 songs and 38:51 of playing time to work with, this package would have been a sterling release. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. Heck, why only add three bonus tracks to the original 12 when up to 80 minutes is available for use? The additions to the original LP release pictured are : “Win Your Love For Me”, “You Were Made For Me” and “Nothing Can Change This Love”. Just add another 15 tracks or so and you would have a pretty comprehensive collection. (Particularly “A Change Is Gonna Come”, “Soothe Me” and “Shake”).
What the purchaser ends up with here is probably the best-sounding, but at the same time, most severely truncated program of Sam Cooke material. I suppose if you’re is rich, you should get a 2 CD release with all the songs, plus also get this one. That way, your high-end playback system can “do its thing” with the superb state-of-the-art sonics this one offers.
– Birney K. Brown