Saturday, April 13, 2013

106 Portrait of a Legend. Undercooked.

Album: Portrait of a Legend
Artist: Sam Cooke
Year: 2003
Genre: Soul

  1. Touch the Hem of His Garment
  2. Lovable
  3. You Send Me
  4. Only Sixteen
  5. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons
  6. Just for You
  7. Win Your Love for Me
  8. Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha
  9. I'll Come Running Back to You
  10. You Were Made for Me
  11. Sad Mood
  12. Cupid
  13. (What a) Wonderful World
  14. Chain Gang
  15. Summertime
  16. Little Red Rooster
  17. Bring It on Home to Me
  18. Nothing Can Change This Love
  19. Sugar Dumpling
  20. (Ain't That) Good News
  21. Meet Me at Mary's Place
  22. Twistin' the Night Away
  23. Shake
  24. Tennessee Waltz
  25. Another Saturday Night
  26. Good Times
  27. Having a Party
  28. That's Where It's At
  29. A Change Is Gonna Come
  30. Jesus Gave Me Water
Sam Cooke is definitely a legend. It's not often a boast made in an album title is justified by it's content but you can't argue with Cooke's legendary status, the man really is a giant figure in soul music. He's also one of the many music legends who died far too early. His recording career lasted less than a decade but he left behind some outstanding music.

Like most artists of his generation, Cooke has been the subject of multiple best-ofs and compilations but Portrait of a Legend is unique in that it actually features some cooperation between his two record labels. Cooke changed labels late in his career and most of his greatest hits CD's cover his work from one label and not the other. Portrait of a legend however is genuinely career-spanning and covers the years from the start of his career and includes songs released after his tragic death in 1964.

Consequently this is one of the few times I can actually recommend a compilation as the definitive disc to buy. Other artists who have a new best of out every few months have compilations that are basically interchangeable but if you want to hear Cooke's entire career this is definitely the one to get. It shows how Cooke mastered Soul ballads (You send me), gospel (Jesus Gave me Water), popular hits (Summertime), protest (A change is gonna come) and even blues (Little Red Rooster). The production is all fairly standard late fifties/ early sixties backing but what sets it apart are Cooke's vocals. The man had a golden voice and an incredible talent which towered above others doing the same thing at the time.

Cooke's death in 1964 is obviously a huge tragedy but not just because it robbed us of a great talent. It also denied us the chance to see what Cooke would have done once the British invasion hit his shores. Cooke released his final album just as The Beatles were starting to break into America and so we never got a chance to hear an album he recorded while influenced by the boys from Liverpool or the white boy blues of the Rolling Stones and Yardbirds. We've also been robbed of the chance to hear how Cooke would have responded to funk and later musical trends which he could have lent his perfect voice to.

If you only buy one Cooke album in your life then I would definitely recommend Live at the Harlem Square Club which captures him in front of a smokingly hot band and an incredibly appreciative crowd. But if you want a career best of then this is the one to get your hands on. It will make you tap your toes but shake your head at what an incredible waste his death was.

Influenced by: Soul
Influenced: Anyone with a soul

Highlight: Bring it on home to me
Lowlight: Sugar Dumpling

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Fabulous!!! I may be a little partial to this particular song...Redd Stewart, co-writer of "Tennessee Waltz" was my dad!"

-Hardly an unbiased review but pretty cool none the less.

So do you enjoy this portrait of a legend or would you leave it in the attic? Let me know below.


  1. It's really quite fascinating that you brought up that "what if" factor if Sam Cooke did indeed live longer.
    To me, Sam Cooke is a legend. His voice is one of the best I have ever heard. Especially some of his earlier songs like "Touch the Helm of His Garment" or "You Send Me" that really display a lot of melodic sensibility. To be honest, I think it would have been interesting to see what path he would have taken. Most likely he, with Otis Redding, would have spearheaded the popular movement of deep soul in the late 60s/early 70s. Though it would have been quite fascinating if he went along with a British Invasion-style sound. In fact, there would probably be nothing better than a deep soul-infused British Invasion sound. One can only wonder.

  2. Can you imagine what Norman Whitfield would have done with Sam Cooke ? But A Change Is Gonna Come is still a landmark song in the protest canon.