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048 Sam Cooke ‘Bring It On Home To Me’,

Posted by jeff on May 31, 2013 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Sam Cooke, ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, Live at the Harlem Square Club

I learned something new this week. Or more precisely, I had a long-held misunderstanding corrected. C’mon, Jeff, just say it—you were wrong, you just found out.

I always believed that Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ was a derivative cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me’. And I’m here today to make a public confession that I was wrong, that Sam Cooke’s version came first, and thus to try to right that heinous injustice.

‘BIOHTM’ was released on May 8, 1962 as the B-side of ‘Having a Party’ on the RCA label.
‘YRGAHOM’ was released on November 9, 1962 on the Tamla label, a subsidiary of Motown.

So there. I’m sorry, Sam. But I guess I don’t really need to worry about it too much, since the half century since Cooke’s death at 33 in 1964 (shot by a lady motel manager whose room he had broken into and was allegedly trying to assault) has been very kind to his reputation. He commands the greatest respect imaginable, especially as a vocal stylist. Van Morrison readily admits that his whole approach to singing is modeled after Cooke. Rod Stewart often sounds like a bleached version of Cooke. You can’t imagine Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye without Cooke’s precedent. And that’s only the start of a very long list.

But that’s not his only achievement. He’s considered one of the finest gospel singers of the 1950s. In 1958 he crossed the line from the sacred world of hoot-and-shout gospel to the profane world of string-backed, hormone-soaked teenage carnal love with one of the biggest hits of the decade, ‘You Send Me’. Over the next few years until his death he had a string of memorable pop hits (‘Cupid‘, ‘Wonderful World’ later covered by James Taylor/Paul Simon/Art Garfunkel, among many others) as well as hits that in retrospect were trailblazing steps into what would become soul music (‘Shake‘, ‘Ain’t That Good News’, and the immortal ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’). He was a political rebel, promoting black consciousness and pride, founding his own record company to fight the repressive, commercialized (white) music distribution business.

In a previous SoTW, I expressed some of my admiration for Smokey Robinson’s stunning ‘The Tracks of My Tears’. And I’m glossing right over Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ here, because it is too divine to be discussed other than on its own. This week we’re going to confine ourselves to these two companion pieces, ‘BIOHTM’ and ‘YRGAHOM’.

They’re both written by the very first black singer-songwriter auteurs in the pop idiom. They both reach back into the artist’s gospel roots, using the black Baptist church’s call-and-response format in a secular R&B song. And then looking around to write this, I discovered another very striking similarity–both were clearly toned down, sweetened up and bowdlerized for the Top 40 (white teenage) market, but both have a well-known raw, soulful version that puts the more popular version in a much clearer light.

Here’s Smokey Robinson & The Miracles hit record of ‘You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me’. And here’s a live version of the song, typical slick Motown, very much reflecting the spirit of the recorded version. It’s from the (Wonder Bread-white) TV show Shindig; Smokey and the guys are wearing tuxedos, and the dancing is typical 1964-vintage Motown. And here’s a pretty remarkable clip from 1963 in front of a black audience, from the “Motortown” revue at the Apollo Theater, with the legendary James Jamerson on bass, Smokey’s wife Claudette as a member of the original group. Apparently Motown didn’t have choreographers yet to polish the dancing, and Smokey’s tie is undone. His performance here is more James Brown than David Ruffin.

And here’s our SoTW, Sam Cooke’s inadvertently maligned ‘Bring It On Home To Me’. Here’s the hit record version of the song. The second voice here is the uncredited, then-unknown Lou Rawls! Ernie Freeman plays piano. And here it is live in front of a black audience at the Harlem Square Club in Miami, 1963. I’ve heard this song many times, by many artists. But I certainly never experienced it as I did when I heard this very, very raw and real version.

Among the countless artists who have covered the song are Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Paul McCartney (twice), John Lennon, Van Morrison, Rod Stewart, and Aretha Franklin. So I’m not sure that Sam Cooke really needs rehabilitation from me. Still, it’s my privilege and pleasure to join the choir. So I guess I learned two things this week. First of all, that Sam Cooke takes a back seat to no one, not even to Smokey Robinson. Secondly, and much more important as a practical lesson for the future–the sweetest fruits are often those closest to the roots.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

 

152: Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’
136: James Taylor, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – ‘Wonderful World’
120: Sam Cooke, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’

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152: Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’

Posted by jeff on Oct 26, 2012 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’

Sam Cooke, smiling

As promised, we’ve embarked on a visit to three “spookily existential posthumous hits”. Last week we visited Otis Redding, an artist I’m still learning to fully appreciate, and ‘(Sitting on) The Dock of a Bay’, which he recorded 18 days before he was killed.

This week, we’re going to pay homage to an artist I’ve long held in the highest esteem, Sam Cooke, and to his universally acclaimed Civil Rights anthem ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, recorded a year before his death but released only posthumously.

We’ve written several times about Sam Cooke (1931-1964) – about his gospel roots, his crossover to rhythm and blues (for example, SoTW 048, ‘Bring It on Home to Me’); his success as a genteel creator of pop hits (SoTW 136, ‘Wonderful World’); and his incredible talent as a singer (SoTW 120, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’).

Schmuck

In 1963, Cooke was at the top of his game–hits galore, successful nightclub and concert gigs, and a major-league shmuck manager (Allen Klein, later of Beatles infamy), the highest-earning black entertainer in the world. But while on tour (which he did non-stop to keep away from his crumbling marriage), his 18 month old son, Vincent, drowned in their front yard pool. Sam blamed Mrs Barbara Cooke, and sank into depression, requesting that no one wear black to the child’s funeral.

According to his biographer, Cooke had been profoundly affected by Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ (a hit at the time for Peter, Paul and Mary), moved that such a poignant song about racism in America could come from someone who was not black. While on tour in May 1963, and after speaking with sit-in demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina following a concert, Cooke returned to his tour bus and wrote the first draft of what would become “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Then in October 1963, he was arrested and thrown in jail after refusing to be turned away from a Shreveport, La., hotel which had initially accepted his reservation.

Scene of the crime (the one shoe not visible)

He recorded ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ on December 21, 1963 (arrangement by René Hall), a month after Kennedy’s assassination. But Klein kept it under wraps for a year, till it was finally released as the B-side of a vibrant single, ‘Shake’ (which we heard last week in Otis Redding’s version). The original version of ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was shortened by 30 seconds for the single, deleting the most explicitly anti-segregation verse: I go to the movie and I go downtown/Somebody keep telling me, “Don’t hang around”/It’s been a long, a long time coming/But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.

Apparently Sam wasn’t finished twisting the night away, because on December 11, 1964, he took a hooker to his motel room. When he stumbled into the bathroom (highly intoxicated), she grabbed her clothes, his clothes and his cash and ran off. She either did or didn’t stop in the motel office, but Sam was convinced she was hiding there. He barged in, clad in the only clothes Ms Elisa Boyer had left (a sport jacket and one shoe). He vociferously demanded an explanation from the manager, Ms Bertha Franklin. There was a struggle, during which Ms Boyer shot and killed Cooke. The verdict was justifiable homicide. Of course, other versions are rife, including even a conspiracy theory. Cooke was 33.

Ms Boyer at inquest

‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was only a moderate hit at the time, but it was quickly adopted as an anthem by the Civil Rights movement, recorded and performed by everyone. Its status continues to grow today, despite the fact that Allen Klein refuses to allow the use of the original. Rolling Stone ranked it #12 in its list of 500 greatest songs, and ‘the Greatest Soul Song Ever’.

It was selected by the Library of Congress as one of twenty-five selected recordings for the National Recording Registry. Here’s a nice NRP program on the song, including Aretha Franklin saying “Sam Cooke, bar none, was one of the greatest singers of all time.” Here’s Aretha’s own very beautiful version of ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. Here’s another very gospel treatment by Patti LaBelle.

Miss Kentuckey, Djuan Trent

The song has had more cover versions than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill, so we’ll just give you a little sampling. Here’s Otis Redding. Here’s Aaron Neville. Here are The Righteous Brothers. Here’s Tina Turner. Here’s Bob Dylan (how’s that for irony?–the wheel’s still in spin), and here’s The Band. Here’s James Taylor’s version, first time ever on the internet.

Here’s Seal. He tied his cover of the song to Barack Obama’s statement in his 2008 victory speech “change has come to America.” Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi performed this song at President Obama’s inauguration celebration. In case you didn’t notice, she’s black and he’s white and they’re both EQUAL-ly soulful and passionate. Gee, do you think there might be a message hiding there?

Heaven

‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was performed in the 2011 Miss America Pageant by Miss Kentucky, Djuan Trent, during which she maintained that her grandparents wrote the song.  It was even performed in the finals of American Idol by Adam Lambert, provoking “ervin” of Indianapolis to write: “when i first heard this song it was on “American Idol” i really think that this song has alot of meaning. i started to cry because i felt where the song was coming from. just the title made me think. the song makes me think. this song is whats hot i would put this on my mp3 player”

But it’s not Sam’s fault that ervin was inspired to think (and to cry). It’s enough to make you think that perhaps Allen Klein had the right idea, to keep the song under wraps, because ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ really is too noble to be performed on American Idol. But it’s in the public domain, and we’ll just have to live with that. Because we don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky. And because we need music like this to remind us just how difficult it is for any man, black or white or plaid, to maintain his dignity in this world.

Sam Cooke, not smiling

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me, “Don’t hang around”
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Then I go to my brother
And I say, “Brother, help me please”
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees

Oh there been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.

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136: James Taylor, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – ‘Wonderful World’

Posted by jeff on May 25, 2012 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

James Taylor, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel – Wonderful World

What happens when three of the finest and most successful singers of our times get together to record a pop paean to pimply passion? Well, when it’s James Taylor hooking up with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel to sing “Don’t know much about no Rise and Fall, don’t know much about nothin’ at all”, it’s pretty darn memorable.

Paul, Art, James

Paul and James had been friends since their teenage backpacking days circa 1966 as the two leading Americans in the nascent London folk scene. Fame snuck up on Paul while he was in London, when (unbeknownst to him) the acoustic ‘Sounds of Silence’ he had recorded with Art was overdubbed with electric guitars and drums, thereby inventing folk-rock. Meanwhile, James was hanging out with Peter Asher and becoming the first non-British artist signed by The Beatles’ Apple label.

If you don’t know what happened to James and Paul and Art in the late 1960s/early 1970s, you should probably be out mowing the lawn or watching Championship Bowling.

In late 1977, James got a call from his neighbor Paul, who was in a period of reconciliation with Art, who had provided backing vocals on James’ “In The Pocket” album the year before (the very fine ‘Captain Jim’s Drunken Dream’ and the sublime ‘A Junkie’s Lament’) the year before. Art had recorded an album of Jimmy Webb songs, “Watermark”, which was his best solo effort artistically but another commercial flop. It seems Paul was feeling sorry for his ex-, seeing how his own solo career was flourishing. So he called James, and the three of them convened in Paul’s apartment to record a song for belated addition to the already-released album.

In 1978, refashioning up-tempo rock songs into gentle ballads was nothing new—way back in the nascent years of rock and roll, Buddy Holly covered Little Richard’s raucous 1956 ‘Slippin’ and Slidin’’ twice, in a slow electric version and in an unreleased acoustic version.  (The Band and John Lennon also tried their respective hands at the song, albeit in the spirit of the original.)

Wonderful World

I’m assuming it was James who chose to record the Sam Cooke hit, ‘(What a) Wonderful World’. He had been reworking bouncy rock and roll standards in just the same acoustic, introspective, gentle mode to great success (his mega-hit ‘Handy Man’, a hit for Jimmy Jones in 1959; and his Carole King-penned ‘Up On The Roof’, a hit for The Drifters in 1962). In SoTW 112, we took a look at what James could do to Beatles songs such as ‘If I Needed Someone’ and ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, not to mention the already-ballad ‘Yesterday’.

But whoever picked the song, it’s James’ vocals that invest it with such magic. One of the most common planks in the SoTW soapbox is just how fine an artist James Taylor is, and no matter how much of an icon he has become today, his artistry is loved more than understood or seriously appreciated. One of his many insufficiently appreciated talents is as a harmony singer. In my not-so-humble opinion, James and David Crosby stand head and shoulders above the field as harmonizers supreme.

All the others, Art Garfunkel and Graham Nash and the Everlies included, go for the easy choices—adding a second voice a third or a fourth above the lead. James and Crosby have a penchant for adding subtle harmonies below the lead, where they unobtrusively add a depth and a resonance unique in the world of rock.

Take for example TS&G’s ‘Wonderful World’. In the second verse (‘Don’t know much about Geography’), S sings the lead with G singing a fourth above him. Just like in Simon and Garfunkel. It’s not a bad formula—they sold about three bazillion records that way. Contrast it with the introduction (TS&G) or the first verse (G singing lead, T harmonizing a minor third underneath him, then S adding a falsetto counterpart). Then listen to what happens in the second verse when JT joins in on ‘But I do know one and one is two’. Nothing more than the quantum shift from 2D to 3D.

The choice of the song is no little win in and of itself. It was originally a hit (#12 in the US) for Sam Cooke in 1960, and  placed 373rd in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was written by Lou Adler (producer of Cooke, The Mamas & the Papas, Barry McGuire, and Carole King, including her Tapestry album; former husband of Shelley Fabares; and Lakers’ courtside crony of Jack Nicholson), Herb Alpert (Mr. Tijuana Brass, producer of The Carpenters and  Sérgio Mendes, and the Broadway “Angels In America”, mogul and sculptor), with finishing touches by Sam Cooke himself. Lou Rawls sings backup on the original.

It is so irresistible that it’s been recycled more times than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill:

  • The 1965 #4 hit for Herman’s Hermits, recorded as a tribute to Sam Cooke after his horrific death
  • An obscure version by Blind Willie (“Magicfingers”) Feigenbaum, the main claim to fame of which is the fact that the soft, acoustic treatment preceded that of TS&G by several years.
  • The 1978 cult classic film “Animal House
  • The 1983 Richard Gere demeaning remake of Godard’s “Breathless
  • The 1985 Harrison Ford/Kelly McGillis film “Witness
  • The 1985 Levi’s 501 commercial (which I don’t understand, but was voted the 19th greatest song ever to feature in a commercial)
  • The 2005 Will Smith film “Hitch

And here are the wonderful lyrics to this whimsical, witty paean to mindless teenage love. I taught high school for 25 years. Believe me, every word of it is true:

Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology.
Don’t know much about a science book, don’t know much about the French I took.
But I do know that I love you, and I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

Don’t know much geography, don’t know much trigonometry.
Don’t know much about algebra, don’t know what a slide rule is for.
But I do know that one and one is two, and if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be

Now I don’t claim to be an “A” student, but I’m trying to be.
I think that maybe by being an “A” student baby, I could win your love for me

Don’t know much about the Middle Ages, look at the pictures and I turn the pages.
Don’t know much about no Rise and Fall, don’t know much about nothin’ at all.
‘Cause it’s you that I’ve been thinking of, and if I could only win your love,
What a wonderful world this would be.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

Sam Cooke Songs of The Week

James Taylor Songs of The Week

Paul Simon Songs of The Week

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120: Sam Cooke, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’

Posted by jeff on Nov 25, 2011 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

There are a number of artists I admire who to my taste lack a definitive record. I’d like to listen to them, but I just can’t find a really satisfying album that invites repeated visits. Thelonious Monk, whom I admire greatly. Neil Young, whom I begrudgingly admit as being spottily interesting. And this week’s SoTW artist, the great Sam Cooke.

A while back I wrote a SoTW about Cooke’s 1962 Rhythm and Blues classic, ‘Bring It on Home to Me.’ I wrote there about how he’s universally acknowledged  as one of the great singers of popular music. In terms of oeuvre, though, I’ve always been a bit stuck. He has a dozen great pop hits, but how frequently can you listen to them? His gospel music is somewhat beyond my ken. But I’ve often wanted to listen to him more, if I only had something fresh and interesting. Well, folks, I found it. It’s the fine, fine album “Night Beat”, from 1963.

 

Way you wear those dresses, the sun comes shinin' through/ I can't believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you.

Read more…

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