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Sam Cooke- Ain't That Good News (1964)

Updated: May 9

Sam Cooke- Ain’t That Good News

(RCA Victor)

Released February 1964

Recorded February 28, 1963- January 30, 1964


Singer and songwriter Sam Cooke was one of the key founders of soul music. He came to the style by merging gospel music with R&B and delivered the sound with one of the purest and most recognizable voices in popular music. Cook (he added the "e" to the end later) was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1931. He was one of eight children born to Reverend Charles Cook, who worked as a Baptist minister. In 1933 the Cook's moved to Chicago. After singing in church as a youth, Sam Cook(e) joined the Soul Stirrers Gospel group and began releasing music on Specialty Records by 1951.

In 1956 Sam Cook recorded a pop/soul number, "Lovable," under the pseudonym "Dale Cook." He changed his name to avoid offending The Soul Stirrers, but the release stirred things up with the group and the label, who was displeased with his direction to sing non-sacred music. After an argument with Specialty records head Art Rupe, Cook(e) was released from the Soul Stirrers. Cook then added the "e "to his name's end and recorded more pop-related materials.

By 1957, Sam Cooke gained widespread attention when he released "You Send Me" on Keen Records. The song was a number-one hit on the Billboard Pop Charts, and the B-side of the record "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess topped the R&B charts. In 1960, Cooke signed a lucrative deal with RCA Records and released such hit singles as "Chain Gang," "Cupid," Another Saturday Night," Twistin' the Night Away," etc. In 1961 he started his label, SAR Records, and continued to release singles and albums.

In 1964 Cooke released the album Ain’t That Good News, which featured five charting singles. Ain’t That Good Good News was his final release during his lifetime, but the events surrounding his life during and after the release was not good news. For starters, Cooke's first marriage to singer-dancer Dolores Cook fell apart, and the couple divorced in 1958. The same year Sam Cooke was involved in a car crash that killed his chauffeur and hospitalized Cooke. In 1959, Dolores (his ex-wife) died in a car crash. In 1963, a few months before the release of Ain’t That Good News, Cooke's youngest child with Barbara, Vincent, drowned in a pool at 18 months old. To add even more confusion to his life, Cooke fathered three children out of wedlock with his mistress.

On December 11, 1964, Cooke's life ended when hotel manager Bertha Frankin murdered him during a shooting at a hotel in South Central Los Angeles. There is a great deal of speculation regarding the shooting. Franklin claims she shot Cooke thinking he was an intruder when he began knocking on her door and screaming, "Where's the girl!" while looking for Elisa Boyer, who had accompanied him to the hotel. Some have suggested Cooke, who was politically outspoken regarding race issues and was killed as part of a racist conspiracy to silence the singer. Others have suggested that Cooke's manager Allen Klein had some role in his death, but there is no evidence to suggest that to be true. Cooke's death was ruled as a "justifiable homicide," and no one was held responsible for killing one of the great American singers and songwriters at only 33 years old.

Sam Cooke's popularity only began to grow following his death. Posthumously, two singles, "Shake." and "A Change Is Going To Come," were released a month after he was laid to rest. The masterpiece, "Change Is Going To Come," quickly became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement and showcased what seemed to be a new direction for Cooke.

During his short life, Cooke had 29 top 40 hits and helped inspire a generation of singers and political activists. Sam Cooke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986 for his solo work and again with the Soul Stirrers in 1989. As a result of his fame and music, a change did come. Awards: Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Songwriters Hall Of Fame.

Track by Track Analysis

(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)

Side 1

Track 1- (Ain't That) "Good News" is a reworking of a spiritual, further showcasing Cooke's gospel roots. Cooke rewrote the lyrics, thus changing the concept from reflecting a singer's faith in Jesus to representing the singer's faith and devotion to a woman. It turns out that Cooke was rarely faithful or devoted. The uptempo number is heavily orchestrated and includes horns and even the usage of a banjo, which is rare on a soul tune. Some notable session musicians in the ensemble include guitarists René Hall, Howard Roberts, and John Pisano. The song was a hit and charted number at #11. (*+)

Track 2- "Meet Me At Mary's Place" was not a hit but is a solid album track. Still trying to figure out who Mary is, but her place sounds fun! The song includes a call and response between Cooke and the backing singers, a practice common in spirituals, work songs, hymns, and gospel music. (+).

Track 3 -"Good Times" is another fantastic track written by Cooke. It peaked at #11 on the Billboard Charts. The song is notable for its orchestration which incorporates acoustic guitars and marimbas. The song is a "good time" for sure (*+)

Track 4- "Rome Wasn't Build in A Day." On the tune, Cooke pleads with a woman to give him time for their love to grow. Take notice of the horn lines and vocal background included in the arrangement.

Track 5- "Another Saturday Night." is one of Cooke's most popular tunes. The song is about a guy who just got paid, and it's Saturday night. He wants to party but needs somewhere to go and someone to hang with. Cooke wrote the song while touring in England at a hotel where no female guests were allowed. The tune reached number #10 on the charts. It's a classic, (*+)

Track 6- "Tennesse Waltz." is a remake of an uptempo soul version of a country classic. It was the last single Cooke would release during his lifetime and reached #35 on the charts. Take notice that all songs on Side one of the album are up-tempo. Side Two would include mostly ballads. (*+)

Side 2

Track 1 - "A Change Is Gonna Come" was written and sung by soul singer Sam Cooke in 1964, and it became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. The song was believed to be written after Cooke, his wife, and a few of his friends were turned away from a whites-only Holiday Inn Motel in Shreveport, Louisiana, after making a reservation. When his party was told they could not stay at the motel upon arrival, Sam Cooke was furious, called for the manager, and made a big scene. His brother-in-law, fearing for Sam's life, convinced Sam to leave. Police then met Cooke and his entourage after arriving at another hotel, and they were arrested for "disturbing the peace." The story hit the New York Times with a headline reading "Negro Bandleader Held in Shreveport." At the time, Cooke was a big star, particularly in the black community, and the news of his arrest sparked outrage and anger.

Cooke's decision to write "A Change is Gonna Come" was also inspired by Bob Dylan's impactful protest song "Blowin' In the Wind." A few months after the release, Cooke was shot and killed in a motel. In 2019, Cooke was posthumously awarded the key to Shreveport.

The lyrics are inspiring and are presented to create both a sense of sadness and inspiration. This song is as relevant now as it was in 1964.

Guitarist René Hall handled the arrangement and orchestration of the tune. Cooke gave Hall no specific instructions on how to shape his creation. It was rare for Cooke, a control freak, to give anyone that freedom. Understanding the seriousness of the lyrics and the songs' possible impact on pop culture, Hall spent a great deal of time ironing out the arrangement. The orchestration includes sweeping strings, horns, and percussion. The use of the french horn in the recording is particularly effective in creating a sense of sadness.

Cooke's intended drummer for the track was so intimidated by the orchestration and classical elements associated with the piece that he refused to record. Drummer Earl Palmer (a session master) was recording next door and was asked to fill in. Palmer's rhythmic figures are critical to the song's overall rhythmic feel. I know this is a lengthy submission for one tune, but "A Change Is Gonna Come." is that significant, and although changes did come, more need to happen. (+*)

Track 2- "Falling In Love" was written by New Orleans native Harold Battiste. This track is a string-laden ballad with horn backgrounds. It is a sad reflection of someone in love who is not fully loved back. Cooke is an incredible interpreter of ballads. (+)

Track 3- "Home" was an often recorded ballad written by Harry Clarkson and Peter van Steeden in 1931. This piece includes heavy arrangement and orchestral characteristics that distract from Cooke's beautiful voice.

Track 4-" Sittin' In the Sun" is a lesser-known song by great American songsmith Irving Berlin. The lyrics are about a guy sitting in the sun counting his money. Again the ballad is over-arranged and overproduced.

Track 5-" No Second Time" is a ballad credited to Clifton White. Except for "Change Is Gonna Come," I would much rather hear Cooke sing the materials on side two with a jazz trio. No need for over-saturation with a voice like Cooke's.

Track 6- "The Riddle Song'' is a traditional lullaby dating to 15th Century England. It's also known as "I Gave My Love A Cherry." Cooke does a fantastic job on the tune, and the final lyric, "A baby when it's sleeping… there's no crying," is particularly powerful when you realize that Cooke would be gone soon after the release of A'int That The News. (+)

Conclusion: The album serves as a critical work because of the political nature and impact of "A Change Is Going To Come" and because it represents a great artist during their prime, during the final month of his life. Cooke's impact on soul and American music is well represented on Ain't That The News. Chart Position -(#34 Billboard Charts)

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