Tag Archives: R&B

Singer: Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke's first hit was You Send Me, in 1957. His last was A Change Is Gonna Come, released after his death in 1964 at age 33. Uploaded by umtlive.webs.com.

Smooth, distinctive, soulful. Words just don’t exist to explain the sound that Sam Cooke brought to rhythm and blues in America. Virtually every major singer of the past 30 years has claimed Sam Cooke as an influence. And once you’ve heard him, you know why.

Uploaded by almarose.wordpress.com.

As with many African-Americans, Cooke had his roots in gospel music. He performed with the legendary gospel group The Soul Stirrers until he felt the time was right to establish a secular solo career. He recorded one single while still singing gospel, released under the name “Dale Cooke.” As if that voice could be hidden under another name.

Cooke’s first song to make a splash on the Billboard pop chart was “You Send Me.” He went on to release about two dozen songs that made the top 40; even more made the R&B chart. His biggest hits, with their top chart position, included:

“You Send Me” (1, 1957) • “Only Sixteen” (28, 1959) • “Wonderful World” (12, 1960) • “Chain Gang” (2, 1960) • “Cupid” (17, 1961) • “Twistin’ the Night Away” (9, 1962) • “Bring It on Home to Me” (13, 1962) • “Another Saturday Night” (10, 1963) • “A Change Is Gonna Come” (31, 1964) • “Shake” (7, 1964)

The amazing thing about that list is that “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Great American Things, April 7, 2010), one of the greatest songs of the rock and roll era, didn’t even make the top 20 at the time of its release. It came out just after Cooke’s premature death, ruled a “justifiable homicide,” at the age of 33.

Cooke was inducted as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Great American Things, August 31, 2009), and was named the fourth greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone.

Singer: Elvis Presley

Elvis recording with the Jordanaires, 1956. Uploaded by timeinc.net.

Elvis recording with the Jordanaires, 1956. Uploaded by timeinc.net.

There’s a great line in a Paul Simon song: “Every generation throws a hero up the pop chart.” The postwar generation threw up Elvis. So to speak.

The teen  musical culture in the mid-1950s was perfectly set for a new icon. Performers such as Little Richard and Chuck Berry popularized a strain of  rhythm and blues that appealed to white kids, but scandalized their elders. Suddenly, a Southern boy with gospel roots burst on the scene, blending the R&B style with the growing field of country music. That R&B/Country mix got a new name: Rock. And Rock got a king: Elvis.

Uploaded on Photobucket by Mrs_Tea.

Uploaded on Photobucket by Mrs_Tea.

Of course, there were two Elvi (thanks, SNL). Young Elvis, who had hit after hit and who made Viva Las Vegas and Blue Hawaii. Then there was Old Elvis, who wore the sequins and cape, took the drugs, played Las Vegas and ate Hawaii.

No post on Elvis would be complete without a chronicle of the King’s accomplishments. I don’t have enough space to list all of them, but here are some of the most significant. He had 38 top 10 hits, and 18 made it to number one. He was huge as a live performer (pun unintended, but liked), and sold out almost every show he ever performed. He’s in four separate music Halls of Fame. His first hit was “That’s All Right” (1954), and his final chart song…well, we don’t know, because remixed duets with other artists are still being made.

I realize this post just touches the surface of Elvis’s life, but a blog can only go so far. I remember the shock I felt when I learned of his death. It’s one of those “Do you remember where you were when…” moments. Although he was less relevant to the music of the 70s, it still hurt when we heard that Elvis had permanently left the building. In the video: The hip. The lip. The King.