Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sam Cooke

  • The Legendary Sam Cooke [RCA, 1974]
  • Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 [RCA Victor, 1985] B
  • The Man and His Music [RCA Victor, 1986]
  • The Best of Sam Cooke [RCA/Legacy, 2005]
  • Night Beat [RCA/Legacy, 2005]
  • One Night Stand--Live at the Harlem Square Club [RCA/Legacy, 2005]

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Legendary Sam Cooke [RCA, 1974]
[CG70s: A Basic Record Library]

Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 [RCA Victor, 1985]
Some people think live albums capture the essence of rock and roll; I don't even think live shows do. That may be why this record, which yea verily doth document a little-noted aspect of Cooke's amazing career, leaves me mostly tepid. But I blame it on headlong show-band arrangements so single-minded they soon undermine what conceptual interest inheres in the transformation of this seminal crossover teen dream into fit fare for the over-twenty-ones in a Miami r&b club. I like grit as much as the next postprimitivist, but good grit admits interpretive flair just like any other mode--more than Cooke puts into these hits, originally designed to downplay his gritty side. B

The Man and His Music [RCA Victor, 1986]
[CG80: Rock Library: Before 1980]

The Best of Sam Cooke [RCA/Legacy, 2005]
See: Blender review [*].

Night Beat [RCA/Legacy, 2005]
Musically, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame charter member Sam Cooke is a stumper. His voice wasn't just smooth and gritty at the same time, it was infinitely relaxed--for the many who adore it, a sing-the-phone-book voice. But he was so intent on the pop market that some curmudgeons might prefer the phone book to his orchestral accompaniments. But this album gets points for conceiving pop as lounge r&b rather than violin schlock even if Cooke isn't always up to the blues-tinged standards he covers and tries to write. [Blender: 3]

One Night Stand--Live at the Harlem Square Club [RCA/Legacy, 2005]
Recorded at a Miami venue that catered to a black audience, Cooke takes his hits fast and rough. Mythmakers claim this is the real inventor of soul, which the crossover-conscious icon would have denied. But it's an impressive document whose rousing climax suggests what might have ensued if he hadn't died two years later. [Blender: 4]

See Also