Song 275: Sam Cooke, “Bring It On Home To Me” (1962)


I’ve been delaying a post on Sam Cooke for a long time, mainly because I wanted to read Peter Guralnick’s Cooke biography Dream Boogie first. But here’s the thing: Dream Boogie is really good, but it is dense. Who knows if I’ll be done by December 31, this blog’s end date, which is fast approaching (!).

So, here we are. And I’m glad, because I’ve been dying to write about Sam Cooke, one of my favorite musicians. One thing that the book made me realize is that Cooke was not only an incredibly gifted singer, but the dude was smart. I had no idea he wrote most of his songs, nor did I realize that he was a very good and intuitive businessman.

The section of Guranick’s book about “Bring It On Home To Me,” my favorite Sam Cooke song, describes the song’s creation in a way that makes it sound like a series of inspirations and happy accidents. Whereas the song’s flipside, the joyous “Having a Party,” was buoyant and light, “Bring It On Home To Me” was substantial. As business partner J.W. Alexander notes, “We felt that light shit wouldn’t sustain him. We felt he needed more weight.”

Guralnick describes the session like this:

They nearly got it all in one take. This was the closest Sam had come to the classic gospel give-and-take he had once created with [fellow Soul Stirrer] Paul Foster, and the only adjustment that he chose to make on the second, and final, take was the decision to use Lou alone as the echoing voice and dispense altogether with the background chorus. What comes through is a rare moment of undisguised emotion, an unambiguous embrace not just of a cultural heritage but of an adult experience far removed from white teenage fantasy. There was nothing to add or subtract.

In other words, it wasn’t “Having a Party,” that confection of a song about Cokes in the icebox and popcorn on the table that seems miles away from lines like “I’ll always be your slave/’Til I’m buried, buried in my grave.” Nothing about “Bring It On Home To Me” feels forced; it just is. The tempo is perfect, the arrangement is airy but tight, and everything sounds like it’s in its right place.

Sam Cooke’s story ends in tragedy, and I’m bracing myself for Dream Boogie‘s inevitably devastating conclusion. In the meantime, hearing Cooke’s songs in my head as I read the book has been an immensely satisfying experience. They’re amazing songs, well-written and immaculately performed, and though it’s hard to imagine this now, their combination of gospel and R&B helped change the face of popular music.

Guralnick details Cooke’s faults—which were not insignificant—but also makes clear that he was nothing short of a phenomenon, onstage and off. And listening to “Bring It On Home To Me,” it’s hard to put into words just why it works so beautifully, and why Sam Cooke’s performance is so effortlessly beautiful. As Soul Stirrers founder Roy Crain says in Dream Boogie, “Everybody loved that boy. I wish I was educated enough to tell you what that boy was.”


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