Sam Cooke was a singer and songwriter from Chicago, Illinois. The son of a Baptist minister, Sam’s career is divided into two distinct phases. First, his early years singing gospel music, culminating with his seven years as lead singer of The Soul Stirrers. Second, his secular career, when Cooke crossed over into the popular realm, and helped define the future of soul music.
Sam Cooke (1931-1964), singer, songwriter
Hugo and Luigi, record producers
One of the great voices in pop history, Sam Cooke’s best contribution might be his songwriting, the dozen or so pop standards he crafted. As I reviewed his songs, I was stunned by the musical perfection. The simple words that mean so much, the proper note sung just so, that educated understanding of syncopation and dance. Sam Cooke is a great, underrated songwriter, capturing the most complex emotions in a few divine syllables. Even the cat comes over and starts howling when “You Send Me” is played.
He was in the right place at the right time. The first wave of rock and roll musicians opened the door to expression, then retreated in convulsion. Cooke came along in the sweet spot of time, just before the Beatles, when the whole world exploded in musical freedom. Ten years of brilliance, creating the backbone of my generation’s library. Cooke’s songs hint at newfound social freedoms with uncommon finesse. “You Send Me” and “Cupid” are among the most beautiful love songs. The middle part of “Twistin’ The Night Away” (“twistin’, twistin’, everybody’s feeling great”) swings so hard; surely it must be the greatest twist song. When taking a broad look at Sam Cooke’s recording career, the sometimes corny, often orchestrated RCA recordings begin to make sense. Put that banjo against “Ain’t That Good News”. How about a harpsichord on “That’s It — I Quit — I’m Movin’ On”? More importantly, have Lou Rawls sing the second lead on “Bring It On Home To Me”. Once a broad look at his music is taken, you see an elaborate, thoughtful plan behind the choices.
We’re Having A Party
A long time ago I decided “Having A Party” is one of my all-time favorite songs. The guitar figure in the final beat of each measure (probably performed by René Hall) is simple, but so effective. The piano playing just off the beat; it swings so hard. The words strike an emotional chord of pure contentment. The Wikipedia page describes the happy, partying atmosphere in the studio that day, when “Having A Party” and the “Bring It On Home To Me” were recorded, surely one of the greatest 45 RPM singles of all time.
The Cokes are in the icebox,
Popcorn’s on the table,
Me and my baby, we’re out here on the floor.
So listen, Mr. DJ,
Keep those records playing,
‘Cause I’m having such a good time,
Dancing with my baby.
Sally’s doing that twist now,
If you take requests, I….
I got a few for you.
Play that song called “Soul Twist”,
Play that one called “I Know”,
Don’t forget them “Mashed Potatoes”,
No other songs will do.
— Sam Cooke
Cokes and popcorn and dancing to favorite songs with your best girl. Just happy and non-threatening sentiments. No whiskey, no drugs, and no fights. This was 1962. John Kennedy was President. America was powerful, optimistic. The Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum.
Fifty Years Later
Fifty years later, how has life for Americans changed?
1. Nuclear weaponry and rocketry have been perfected. Pinpoint accurate missiles can deliver explosives of ungodly power. The science of weaponry is growing among a second tier of ambitious countries. Nuclear power production, with its toxic byproducts and history of disastrous accidents, has not been perfected.
2. As M. King Hubbert predicted, U.S. oil production peaked around 1970. America’s use of imported oil has increased from about 1 Mb/day to about 10 Mb/day. To put that in perspective, 10 Mb/day of oil at $80 per barrel costs $292 billion dollars per year. A significant percentage of scientists believe that world peak oil production has occurred, or is imminent, to be followed by a bell-curve shaped decline. Today’s economy is highly dependent on oil, especially transportation and agriculture.
3. The science of computation and logic, through the use of electronic logic gates, has been perfected, completely changing the nature of business, pleasure and education. Young men and women are smarter than their parents, though they may be less literate. Long distance communication is assumed, and many are dependent upon it. Personal productivity is enhanced greatly by those who master these powerful tools. Most of all, the Internet is a game changing invention, a worldwide revolutionary force in communication and industry.
4. Deregulation of world markets, and the systematic dismantling of barriers to business efficiency, has consequences. Many American companies have moved their manufacturing to other countries. American union membership has dropped significantly. Goods are way cheaper, for those that can afford them. Top personal income tax rates have dropped from 91% in 1962 to 39% today. Technology and deregulation make it easier for the well-equipped employee to excel compared to his peers. If you build a machine that runs on oil, takes two men to operate, and does the work of fifty men, that means forty-eight don’t need to work.
5. Marketing and advertisement have become perfected. Target marketing benefits a number of social and financial interests. Research firms identify trends and preferences. Funny never goes out of style, but one sees that advertisement is more focused, efficient, and used by those companies that need it most. Why advertise?
“The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses to both present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the Commission’s view, honest, equitable and balanced. The Fairness Doctrine was abolished in 1987.”
You wish they had told you what this would mean.
7. Recently, we experienced two asset bubbles: the NASDAQ/Internet (“Y2K”) bubble of 1999-2000, followed by a larger real estate and derivatives asset bubble in 2008. Wait until you see how long it takes to fix this!
8. Two banking deregulation acts, The Graham-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 and The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, enabled U.S. investment banks to compete favorably with newly powerful, unregulated banks. The results were immediate by reasonable standards — within eight years, the world was severely disrupted by financial crisis. Banks are now nationalized institutions, and critical security interests, deemed too big to fail. The level of outstanding debt, both private and personal, solidifies their vast power.
9. In 1962, there were 3.1 billion people. Today there are 6.9 billion, plus we have perfected the ability to maximize resource utilization. Airborne carbon dioxide concentration is rising, the atmosphere is a touch warmer and more volatile, and the ocean’s pH level is changing. Other animals are simply losing.
10. The groundbreaking Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Attitudes about race, gender and sexual orientation have improved dramatically. The new battlefront between the haves and have-nots is largely economic in nature, pitting the self-sufficient against those who receive governmental assistance through entitlement programs.
Fifty years later, one suspects these changes have increased the urgency to capitalize while the getting is good. Politics seem corrupt, full of deal making and cliquish behavior, and profoundly influenced by monied interests. States compete with one another, offering the best tax deal to the next big employer. Wealth disparity is increasing, but it’s an impersonal fight. It’s not what you look like, but whether the rules are in your favor. America sinks a bit as the globalized world benefits. More and more, people are divided about what to do.
By 1962, I think black Americans had had enough with injustice. And they pushed gently for what was equal and fair. Now we face a new type of inequality. There aren’t enough jobs. And yet, there’s a significant amount of non-productive work done, by well paid workers who yield most or all of the benefits. When compared to fifty years ago, it feels like society now rewards aggression over creativity and accountability.
[Update in April, 2015 — Four years after writing my world overview, I agree with most of it. However, there is a recent disturbing increase in racial tension and religious intolerance. This is understandable given the impending crisis, as a voracious human population grows at the expense of other species, Oil and water shortages will bring great hardship and misery to those who cannot afford them, and I am gradually trying to prepare my family for the changes.]
Sam Cooke’s Untimely Death
In 1963, Sam Cooke had reasons to feel pressure. His marriage was deteriorating when his 18 month old son drowned in the family pool. Cooke made bold career moves, signing his own record deal that guaranteed him greater freedom and higher royalties. During his last few months of life, Cooke created great music, culminating with his final posthumous release “A Change Is Gonna Come”. On December 11, 1964, Cooke was found dead in a Los Angeles motel, a murder mystery with competing stories that no one went to jail for.
Given the circumstances of his untimely death, “A Change Is Gonna Come” may be the greatest song about fear and apprehension ever. Times were tough for America’s black people in 1964. Times are tough today too, and no easier, I’m convinced. In 1962, it was a party in comparison. Cooke’s grand final song is forever relevant.
The following YouTube clips are provided for educational purposes:
Sam Cooke Songs:
Bring It On Home To Me, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭✭✭
Having A Party, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭✭✭
A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭✭
You Send Me, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭✭
Twistin’ The Night Away, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭✭
Ain’t That Good News, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭
Keep Movin’ On, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭
Cupid, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭
Chain Gang, Sam Cooke ✭✭✭
One More River, Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers ✭✭
Twistin’ The Night Away (Live), Sam Cooke ✭✭
Touch The Hem Of His Garment, Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers ✭✭
The Red Rooster, Sam Cooke ✭✭
That’s It – I Quit – I’m Movin’ On, Sam Cooke ✭✭
Wonderful World, Sam Cooke ✭✭
Shake, Sam Cooke ✭✭
Another Saturday Night, Sam Cooke ✭✭
Good Times, Sam Cooke ✭✭
That’s Where It’s At, Sam Cooke ✭✭
I’ll Come Running Back To You, Sam Cooke ✭✭
Only Sixteen, Sam Cooke ✭✭
Sad Mood, Sam Cooke ✭
Soothe Me, Sam Cooke ✭
Somebody Have Mercy, Sam Cooke ✭
Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha, Sam Cooke ✭
Chain Gang (Live), Sam Cooke ✭
Yeah Man, Sam Cooke ✭
Let’s Twist Again, Chubby Checker ✭✭✭
The Twist, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters ✭✭✭
The Twist, Chubby Checker ✭✭✭
The Red Rooster, Howlin’ Wolf ✭✭✭✭
The Red Rooster (False Start), Howlin’ Wolf ✭✭✭
The Red Rooster, The Rolling Stones ✭✭✭✭✭
Soothe Me (Live), Sam & Dave ✭✭✭
Soothe Me, Sam & Dave ✭✭
Soothe Me, The Simms Twins ✭✭
Bring It On Home To Me (Live), The Animals ✭✭
Bring It On To Home, The Animals ✭✭