As I’ve been working this morning, I’ve been listening to Sam Cooke to clear my head and counteract the sound of excavators building me a new driveway immediately outside my window. Once again, I have the repeated urge to reach through the speakers and swot the Jordanaire-style background singers and then fling a grenade into the orchestra pit. His voice and the songs still shine through, in spite of the light-entertainment adornments (although he could lose a few of the cha-cha-cha-style lounge numbers).
I can’t help thinking that, had he survived a couple of years later and be given a home at Atlantic and a producer like Jerry Wexler, he would have become the towering figure of 60s soul. Just before his death we get the mighty Bring it On Home and A Change is Gonna Come, both of which point forward to Otis and beyond.
A lot changed in those couple of years: soul music became funkier, tighter and grittier, and lost the cheesier hangovers from the 50s. He would have been unstoppable. In this alternate history, his earlier supper-club repertoire would be viewed the same way as Aretha’s Columbia recordings: a sugary aperitif before the spit-roasted BBQ main course.
A final glimpse we have into this possibility is the wonderful Live at the Harlem Square Club where, stripped of his orchestra and backing singers and transplanted to a sweaty, black nightclub, he produces something that is absolutely, unambiguously soul music.
Anyway, have these timesheets written themselves yet? Bugger…