By the river in a little tent

I don’t know if they make Stars In Their Eyes any more. Probably a good thing if they don’t – more of a mercy killing than anything – but it does shift the emphasis a little on the age old question: who would you be on Stars In Their Eyes? For my own part, I was never quite sure: I had high aspirations but a voice that would make Ozzy wince – I figured if anything, I was best suited for death-grunting. These days, the point is ostensibly not to sound exactly like someone else when competing on, say, X Factor, but to be a good singer – it rarely happens, and the most highly praised performances seem to be those which copy every tic and inflection of Whitney or Mariah &c.

If I could sing like someone though, I’d probably go down the soul route: it would be Percy Sledge, or James Carr, or Sam Cooke. I’ve been listening to a lot of Cooke over the weekend, and it astounds me that I’ve never bothered before. Percy Sledge is as polished as his hair, whereas Carr is the gruff, rawer end of the spectrum; but Sam Cooke is as pure and perfect a singer as you could ever hope to hear – cited regularly as an influence on Otis Redding, Rod Stewart and Van Morrison, Cooke was far more beautifully pitched, toned and paced than any of them.

Cooke started off via gospel – singing in church, as it seems where most people started: The Soul Stirrers are fantastic for vocal harmony. The songs are reverent and gentle, but still vital. When he graduated to pop it caused something of a controversy, but we can only be thankful that he did – the musical world would be a different place without him.

Sam Cooke – Peace In The Valley
Sam Cooke – Chain Gang
Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come


One Response

  1. Great tribute to a great artist and even greater human being. Thank you for remembering Sam and his wonderful music legacy.

    Erik Greene
    Author, “Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family’s Perspective”

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