SAM COOKE-THE RCA ALBUMS COLLECTION.

SAM COOKE-THE RCA ALBUMS COLLECTION.

With record companies on what seems like an extended summer break, it gives me the opportunity to look back at albums I’ve overlooked or not had time to review when they were released. Now as someone whose something of a self-confessed music addict, who can’t go more than two days without my fix of new music, you can imagine the amount of albums that I own. Truly, over the years I’ve bought and been given thousands upon thousands of albums. Often, the amount of albums that come my way mean I can’t review everything. So when there’s a lull in the amount of new releases, this allows me catch up on albums that I meant to review but never got round to. However, it’s not just albums I buy, but box sets. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved box sets and over the years, built up quite a collection. 2012 has been a good year for box sets, with Harmless Records’ ten-disc Magnus Opus Philadelphia International Records-The 40th Anniversary Box Set, plus their four-disc Philadelphia International Classics-The Tom Moulton Remixes. Then there’s been the recent P&P Hits, Hits, Hits and Freedom Sounds released by Trojan Records, plus the intriguing Great British Albums box set which was released recently. Last year was just as good, with the Screamadelica box set one of the best box sets of 2011, while there were welcome release of box sets from Nina Simone and the eight-disc box Sam Cooke box set Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection, which I’ll now tell you about.

For many people, the music of Otis Redding, Aretha Frankin, Al Green, Motown and Sam Cooke were their introduction to soul music. These artists will be what started them on a lifelong love-affair with all things soul music. Much as I like each of these artists and labels like Atlantic Records, Hi Records and Motown, I’ve always loved the music of Philadelphia International Records. Nothing else comes close. Having said that I appreciate and enjoy all types of soul music, including the music of Sam Cooke. For too long, Sam Cooke’s music had been unavailable, with just the usual collection of hastily compiled compilations available. So when I saw that Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection, I decided it was time to replace my old vinyl copies with this eight-disc box set. However, what did I find in the eight-disc Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection and has Sam’s music stood the test of time?

COOKE’S TOUR.

Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection features seven studio albums that Sam Cooke released between April 1960 and September 1963. This box set starts in 1960, with Cooke’s Tour, released in April 1960, which you could loosely call an early concept album, with Sam singing about some of the cities of the world. This is very much a mixed bag, or what I’d call the good, the bad and the ugly. Far Away Places which opens Cooke’s Tour works, as do South of the Border, Bali Ha’i and Sweet Leilani. These tracks are the highlights of Cooke’s Tour. After that, things go astray.

Apart from these tracks, the rest of Cooke’s Tour are an ill advised collection of tracks. Truly, they haven’t stood the test of of time well. Listening to Under Paris Skies, The Coffee Song, Jamaica Farewell and Arrivederci, Roma (Goodbye To Rome) these tracks just sound of there time. However, the absolute low-points of Cooke’s Tours are the Hawaiian-tinged Sweet Leilani and Japanese Farewell Song.

Sadly, Cook’s Tour is an album that back in 1960, would’ve sounded very different, but fifty years later, it’s showing its age. Although Sam’s voice has the rich quality you’d expect, many of the songs on Cooke’s Tour do him no favors. Hopefully things will improve during the rest of Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection.

COOKE’S TOUR.

HITS OF THE 50s.

Hits of the 50s was released in August 1960 and sees Sam Cooke revisit some of the popular songs of the fifties. This sees the entrance of Sam Cooke crooner, delivering familiar tracks like Mona Lisa, The Great Pretender, Unchained Melody, The Song From Moulin Rouge and I’m Walking Behind You. Again there very much a mixed bag of tracks, that sound from another era. It’s the type of music you’d hear on easy listening radio stations in the late sixties, early seventies. Having said that, there are some highlights, including Hey There, Too Young and Unchained Melody. Sam’s version of Too Young brings new life to the song, and on Unchained Melody he slows the song way down, delivering the track in a way that brings out the song’s subtleties, nuances and beauty. The jazz-tinged Cry allows you to experience that glorious, rich voice at its very best. 

Overall, Hits of the 50s is much better that Cooke’s Tour and has stood the test of time much better. Sam’s voice is suited to many of the tracks on Hits of the 50s, although there are a few tracks that just don’t work, including The Wayward Wind which never gets going, and Venus where despite Sam’s best efforts, just doesn’t work. However, at least the good tracks outnumber the bad tracks on Hits of the 50s, unlike Cooke’s Tour.

HITS OF THE 50s. 

SWING LOW.

When Swing Low was originally released in March 1961, it was originally entitled Sam Cooke. Sadly, Swing Low has more in common with Cooke’s Tour than Hits of the 50s. Apart from the classic Chain Gang, which is Sam Cooke at his very best, much of Swing Low is filler. Tracks like Grandfather’s Clock, Jeanie With The Light Brown Hair are two of the worst tracks on the box set. They really belong to another age, and haven’t stood the test of time. The strange things is, many other albums from other artists have stood the test of time, but not Swing Low. Of the other tracks on Swing Low, I’m Just A Country Boy, Long, Long Ago, You Belong To Me and Goin’ Home do something to rescue the situation just. 

Truly, Swing Low isn’t Sam Cooke at his finest. Maybe if I’d been around in 1961, I’d be writing a different review, but fifty-one years later, it’s a different story. For anyone looking to buy a Sam Cooke studio album, sadly Swing Low wouldn’t my recommendation.

SWING LOW.

MY KIND OF BLUES.

By the time Sam Cooke released My Kind of Blues in October 1961, he was beginning to hit his stride. This is a much better collection of songs. Opening with the jazz-tinged Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Sam is accompanied by a small tight band and horn section. They really lift things, as Sam kicks loose. Soon, he drops the tempo on Little Girl Blue, before delivering a heartfelt, slow and spacious version of Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out. From there, Out In The Cold Again and But Not For Me sees the quality continue, with Sam delivering some of his best vocals on the box set so far. 

My only quibble and criticism is that some of the tracks have similar arrangements, with the blazing horns opening the track and rasping their way through the track. Having said that, they add to the bluesy sound and feel, and this is so much better than Cooke’s tour or Swing Low. 

Since I Met You Baby sees Sam at his best, while his cover of Big Joe Turner’s Trouble In Mind manages to come across as soulful and bluesy. A combination of Sam’s soulful vocal and the bluesy horns combine beautifully. There’s no real disappointing tracks on My Kind of Blues and is something of a coming of age album for Sam Cooke. He seemed to find the sound that suited him and the songs on My Kind of Blues fit Sam like a glove. My Kind of Blues is my favorite Sam Cooke album from Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection and is Sam Cooke at his very best.

MY KIND OF BLUES.

TWISTIN’ THE NIGHT AWAY.

After the consistent quality of what was a classic Sam Cooke album, My Kind of Blues, Twistin’ The Night Away released in April 1962 sees a return to the mixed bag of Cooke’s Tour and Swing Low. It seems that having had a hit with Twisting The Night Away, someone came up with the bright idea to write a several variations on the them. Hence Twisting In The Kitchen With Dinah, Twisting In The Old Town Tonight and Camptown Twist. Sadly, these tracks are nothing like as good as the original and just don’t work. Maybe fifty years ago these songs sounded great, but not any more. Their addition wasn’t big and wasn’t clever. Staying on the theme of all things twisting, Sam covers The Twist, but it’s nothing like the original. So with twisting tracks taking up five tracks, are the other seven tracks on Twistin’ The Night Away any better?

Apart from Somebody’s Gonna Miss Me and the impassioned pleas of Sam on Somebody Have Mercy and Soothe Me, the highlights of Twistin’ The Night Away are few and far between. The bluesy Movin’ And A Groovin’ is a song that’s obviously been influenced by the twisting songs, and is derivative in nature. Obviously, Twistin’ The Night Away is one of Sam Cooke’s best known tracks, but apart from it and three other tracks, Twistin’ The Night Away isn’t vintage Sam Cooke. Indeed far from it. Indeed,Twistin’ The Night Away seems a backward step from Sam Cooke after My Kind of Blues. Thankfully, things would improve for Sam Cooke in 1963.

TWISTIN’ THE NIGHT AWAY. 

MR. SOUL.

Sam Cooke released two more albums in 1963, with Mr. Soul the first of them. Here, Sam finds the form he showed on My Kind of Blues, delivering twelve soulful tracks, where that velvet voice tantalizes you. From I Wish You Love, though Chains Of Love, Chains Of Love, the sumptuous Smoke Rings and the bluesy All The Way, this makes listening to all the inferior tracks on Cooke’s Tour, Swing Low and Twistin’ The Night Away worthwhile. It’s as if Sam’s been working up to Mr. Soul. 

Unfortunately, things go slightly awry on Send Me Some Lovin,’ which isn’t as good as the other tracks. After that, quivering, shivering strings give way to the piano and an impassioned and peerless version of Cry Me A River. Driftin’ Blues sees Sam return to the bluesy sound of My Kind of Blues, with For Sentimental Reasons (I Love You), Nothing Can Change This Love and Little Girl continuing to take Mr. Soul in the same bluesy, soulful direction. Closing Mr. Soul is These Foolish Things, which close this classic album. Along with My Kind of Blues, Mr. Soul is vintage Sam Cooke and makes enduring Cooke’s Tour, Swing Low and Twistin’ the Night Away worthwhile.

MR. SOUL.

NIGHT BEAT.

Night Beat is the final Sam Cooke studio album, released in August 1963. Like many of the albums in the Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection, Night Beat features twelve tracks from Sam Cooke. Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen gets Night Beat of to a dramatic, impassioned opening, before Sam lays bare his soul on Lost And Lookin.’ Mean Old World fuses the bluesy sound of My Kind of Blues with country soul and even gospel music. By now you realize that many of Sam Cooke’s previous albums were leading up to albums like Mr. Soul and Night Beat

Mean Old World fuses the bluesy sound of My Kind of Blues with country soul and even gospel music. The bluesy sound continues on Please Don’t Drive Me Away, where Sam pleas and begs, delivering one of most emotive and heartfelt vocals. On the piano lead Get Yourself Another Fool, Sam’s vocal is a mixture of sadness and heartbreak, but results in one of his best vocals. You can’t fail to be moved by his vocal, and the same can be said of Trouble Blues and Fool’s Paradise, where Sam makes each track his own. Much of the music on Night Beat has a similar style, except two tracks. 

Little Red Rooster sees Sam Cooke kick loose, while his band create a bluesy backdrop for his vocal. He returns to this sound on Shake, Rattle And Roll, which closes Night Beat. Of all the tracks on Night Beat, this track absolutely swings..and then some. This is the perfect way to close Night Beat, which is the last of Sam Cooke’s studio albums included in Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection. For Sam Cooke’s fans, Night Beat is Sam at his very best. Night Beat almost seems a fitting finale Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection. However, there’s the still the live album to come, One Night Stand! Live At the Harlem Club. 

 NIGHT BEAT.

ONE NIGHT STAND-LIVE AT THE HARLEM CLUB.

Although this concert was recorded back in January 1963, One Night Stand-Live At the Harlem Cub was never officially released until twenty-two years later in June 1985. Maybe the reason it wasn’t released before 1985 is that the sound quality is pretty poor. Sam seems to be forcing his vocals on some tracks, as if trying far too hard to win the audience over. As a result, the songs lose their subtlety, nuances and beauty. Having said that, he delivers a string of classics. This includes Chain Gang, Cupid, Twistin’ The Night Away and closes with the joyous Having A Party. 

Why the record company decided to include One Night Stand-Live At the Harlem Cub is something of a puzzle? Given how poor the sound quality is and that it’s hardly a vintage performance from Sam Cooke, why didn’t the include another studio album. Surely Ain’t That Good News, the final studio album released in Sam’s lifetime would’ve been a better choice? For me, One Night Stand-Live At the Harlem Club is a slightly disappointing way to close Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection. 

ONE NIGHT STAND-LIVE AT THE HARLEM CLUB.

For anyone wondering whether I’d recommend they buy Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection, I’d say that if you do, don’t expect eight classic albums. In reality, I’d only consider My Kind of Blues, Mr.Soul and Night Beat as classic albums, with My Kind of Blues something of a hidden gem in Sam Cooke’s back-catalogue. Of the other four studio albums, Hits of the 50s is what I’d call the best of the rest. It’s far from the standard of My Kind of Blues, Mr.Soul and Night Beat, but contains some tracks where Sam Cooke makes the song his own and gives a tantalizing glimpse of what’s still to come. That leaves the other three studio albums, with Cooke’s Tour, Swing Low and Twistin’ The Night Away very much a mixed bag, with very little to commend them. During this trio of albums, there are occasions when Sam’s talent shines through and we hear Sam Cooke at his best. Sadly, the other album in the Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection is one that’s quite forgettable, due to the poor quality of the recording and Sam Cooke sounding like he’s trying too hard to win his audience over. 

So, would I buy Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection again? I think given I would. Although Cooke’s Tour, Swing Low and Twistin’ The Night Away are very much mixed bags, they show Sam Cooke developing and growing as a singer. This is the case on One Night Stand-Live At the Harlem Club which despite it’s pretty awful sound quality, you can hear Sam trying too hard. The upside of Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection is the three classic Sam Cooke albums My Kind of Blues, Mr. Soul and Night Beat. Given how good these three albums are and how reasonably priced Sam Cooke-The RCA Albums Collection is then, even if you find the other albums mixed bags, then it’ll still be cheaper than buying My Kind of Blues, Mr. Soul and Night Beat separately. Anyway, My Kind of Blues, Mr. Soul and Night Beat alone are three classic albums from one of the legends of soul music Sam Cooke.

SAM COOKE-THE RCA ALBUMS COLLECTION.

RCA Albums Collection

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