Sunday, September 5, 2010

Soul Music

My latest trip to the thrift shop yielded a gold nugget, an original stereo pressing of Sam Cooke's Hits of the 50's. I've never listened closely to any Sam Cooke until now, which is a crying shame, because this record convinced me that he's the greatest singer ever. His voice has a certain sweet undertone that's missing in singers with a voice as smooth as his, like Sinatra, and singers with the same kind of bewildering ranges that he has, like Orbison. It's a sweetness that makes you believe music is a transcendent art. The songs on the album are simple in melody, orchestration, and sentiment. Sam Cooke's voice provides a beneficent spirit to the song that make them seem like a gift from God to comfort us.

It's records like this that make me thankful for vinyl and my stereo. After hearing the album, I bought a CD of Cooke's greatest hits. The CD sounds good, but his voice lacks the body that's present on the album and, therefore, doesn't have the same visceral impact. RCA records from the late 50s/early 60s are among the best LPs ever recorded. I've listened and appreciated this album many times, scratches and all, more so than the CD. After writing about the folly of new music, it's uplifting to find something that I consider essential.