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Sam Cooke Songs: 10 Essential Tracks You Need to Know

Sam Cooke songs

Our top 10 best Sam Cooke songs list explores the music of one of America’s greatest soul and pop singer-songwriters, often known as the ‘King of Soul.’

Top 10 Best Sam Cooke Songs

10. Having a Party

Released in 1962 as the A-side to “Bring It On Home To Me,” “Having a Party” is one of those Sam Cooke songs that instill a good feeling in you. The track became his typical ending song during his live performances, often inviting all the other acts back onstage to join along, throw confetti, and keep the party going.

Herb Alpert, who Cooke would later work with, recalls the song. “Sam had great instincts. He was just one of those guys that had a feel – I mean, if he walked in and showed you the lyrics that he had, you’d kind of wonder what it’s all about. But as soon as he picked up his guitar and played “Having a Party,” the whole thing came to life. So he had this very personal way of expressing himself that was very touching.”

9. Shake

“Shake” was recorded about a month before his death in 1964. Bobby Womack played guitar on the track. The song became a posthumous hit for Cooke, reaching No. 7 spot in February of 1965. One of a few Sam Cooke songs including “Another Saturday Night” and “Everybody Loves to Cha-Cha-Cha” show his love for rumba and cha-cha music.

Otis Redding, Eric Burdon and the Animals, Small Faces and The Supremes have all recorded their own versions of “Shake.” 

8. (What A) Wonderful World

Originally written by Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, Sam Cooke finished the songwriting and recorded it during his last session at Keen Records. Released on April 14, 1960, the upbeat “(What A) Wonderful World” reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

7. Cupid

Initially, Cooke’s producers had requested for him to write a song for a girl they had noticed on a Perry Como TV show. Cooke’s business partner recalls, “She didn’t do anything but just look up at Perry Como in the most wistful-type manner.” After listening to her sing however, they decided to keep “Cupid” for Sam Cooke.

6. Another Saturday Night

This Sam Cooke song was written while he was touring the United Kingdom with Little Richard in 1962. Apparently he wrote “Another Saturday Night” in a hotel room which was off-limits to all female guests. This is one of the more lighthearted and lively Sam Cooke songs.

5. Good Times

“Good Times” was one of the last Sam Cooke songs he wrote and recorded before his death on December 11, 1964. The track was also recorded by the Rolling Stones on their 1965 album Out Of Our Heads.

In 1971, Dave Marsh (American music critic) wrote for Creem magazine, “At his very best, Cooke utilized a perfect lyrical sentimentality… listen to ‘Good Times’ – It might be one o’clock and it might be three/Time don’t mean that much to me/Ain’t felt this good since I don’t know when/And I might not feel this good again/So come on baby, let the good times roll/We gonna stay here till we soothe our soul. That summed up perfectly what rock and roll was about, and still is, in so many ways.”

4. Summertime

“Summertime” was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by DuBose Heyward in 1934. There are more than 25,000 recordings of the song, with Sam Cooke’s 1957 version being one of our favorites.

3. You Send Me

Sam Cooke credits the song “You Send Me” to his brother Charles Cooke who originally wrote and performed the song in the 1940s. The song became part of his debut release with the Keen Record label in 1957, becoming a hit overnight and in the process igniting Sam Cooke’s legendary career.

2. A Change Is Gonna Come

One of the few Sam Cooke songs that weren’t his typical soulful ballad or lively upbeat tune, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was inspired by an event where Cooke and his friends were rejected from a whites-only motel. After hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” he felt inclined to write a protest song of his own about the struggles for his fellow African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.

1. Bring It On Home To Me

Our favorite of all the great Sam Cooke songs, “Bring It On Home To Me” is the perfect love ballad and rightly has a place in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our top 10 Sam Cooke songs list.

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