Saturday, January 24, 2009

You Never Forget the First Time

New music is new music. If you were lucky enough to hear Elvis in '56,or The Beatles in '63, or The Clash in '77, then hats off to you. But the utter joy and thrill of hearing the opening harmonica line of Please Please Me is no different if you heard it now for the first time, in 2009, than over four decades ago. Sure, some like to claim credit. We know that line, "Oh, I was into U2 when Boy came out and after that they sucked." Yeah, fine. I don't know where that gets you and I don't see any liner notes in tribute to your great taste.

All this is prelude to a discussion of my new favorite album, 1963's Night Beat by Sam Cooke. It's an album that showcases Cooke's voice, with the perfect amount of accompaniment. No lush orchestration, no cheesy backup singers. Drums, bass, guitar, piano and organ provide rock solid support for the Cooke sound, which is indescribable. Words like pure and soulful, are true enough, but not nearly sufficient. That he is emotional but not manipulative is also a fact. That his singing feels personal at the same time it touches you deeply, all the while sending a warm feeling that he is having a good time, may be getting closer. You can almost see a sly grin on his face as he sings.

Little Red Rooster as sung by Howlin' Wolf is downright dangerous. Little Red Rooster as done by The Rolling Stones, is pure teen swagger, a facade of aggression thinly masking their obvious nonthreatening skinny whiteness. Little Red Rooster as performed by Sam Cooke is the confident cool of one who rules the roost. No doubt about it. With 16 year old Billy Preston wailing away on organ throughout, a funny sycophant egging him on bar after bar, Sam Cooke is the biggest cock around.

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