23 Best Sam Cooke Songs

Sam Cooke was only 33 when he was shot in a controversial incident at a Los Angeles hotel, but he left behind a collection of soulful music and a catalog of exquisitely well-written songs. Here are the best Sam Cooke Songs ever.

1. “A Change is Gonna Come”

Song Year: 1964

“A Change is Gonna Come” has become a symbol of the civil rights movement, and its message of hope in the face of struggle has resonated with people for decades. That said, the song barely made the Top 40.

But in the years after the song’s release, the powerful lyrics, reflecting Cooke's own experiences with racism and discrimination, have resonated with generations of listeners. Otis Redding covered “A Change is Gonna Come” at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, a performance that went down in history. Other notable artists include Seal, Greta van Fleet, and the Fugees.

2. “Wonderful World”

Song Year: 1960

One of the rare Sam Cooke hits that Cooke himself didn’t write, “Wonderful World” is about a man who isn’t book smart but knows what love is. Maybe that’s why the song appealed to so many people.

While it was written by Lou Adler and Herb Alpert, Cooke did make some changes to the lyrics. It’s a short-and-sweet song, but it’s a lovely piece of music. Generation X was introduced to the song when they saw Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis dancing to it in a barn in the film Witness.

3. “Bring It On Home To Me”

Song Year: 1962

Lou Rawls joined Cooke on backing vocals for “Bring It On Home to Me,” a top-20 hit. The ballad about a man trying to win back his love is considered one of Cooke’s most emotional performances.

The melody was inspired by a gospel tune called “I’m So Glad (Trouble Don’t Last Always)” by the Dixie Hummingbirds, which shines a light on Cooke’s church-music background.

4. “Twistin’ the Night Away”

Song Year: 1962

The title track to Cooke’s eighth studio album, “Twistin’ the Night Away” reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on the strength of its infectious beat and catchy chorus. The lyrics are about a party where everyone is twisting and having a good time, and the song’s energy is irresistible.

The horn section alone could have made the whole song, but there are great performances from everyone on the record. Those are the Jordanaires on background vocals, and if the name doesn’t sound familiar, the voices should, anyway— they sang with Elvis Presley.

5. “Shake”

Song Year: 1964

Recorded in the last session before Sam Cooke’s death, “Shake” was a posthumous release and became a top-ten hit. It’s ridiculously fun, it makes you work hard not to dance around to it, and it’s got a pall of sadness around it since the world had just lost Cooke to the controversial shooting that took him from us.

6. “Another Saturday Night”

Song Year: 1963

Many of Cooke’s songs are the kind that people hear the title of, think, “I don’t think I know that,” and then they hear it. At that point, they either say, “Oh, yeah. I know this one,” or they say, “I didn’t know this was Sam Cooke.”

“Another Saturday Night” is one of those. It’s a piece of pop confectionery, but it’s so much fun to listen to, with Cooke’s borderline-shout performance and a danceable beat. And since it’s about a guy with money on his hands but no girl to spend it on, lonely people can relate to it.

7. “That’s Where It’s At”

Song Year: 1964

“That's Where It’s At” was released mere months before Cooke’s death. The title track of his 1964 album, “That’s Where It’s At” is about the good feeling of being in the moment with that special someone. It’s a romantic piece of music that draws strength from Cooke’s soulful performance.

It’s a slow burn that captures the romantic feeling of the situation in the lyrics.

8. “You Send Me”

Song Year: 1957

Sam Cooke’s first hit, “You Send Me” marked the beginning of his evolution as a songwriter and performer. It’s a song that very much sounds like it came out in the 50s, and when compared to Cooke’s later work, it’s very different.

The record label he was on at the time was a gospel label, and the brass was worried the song would drive listeners away. The song got sent to Keen Records and ended up selling two million copies. So score one for the heathens.

9. “Chain Gang”

Song Year: 1960

The upbeat sounds of “Chain Gang” belie its oppressive subject matter. It’s a song about prisoners working on a chain gang and suffering oppression, hardship, and injustice. It was a number-two hit, so it makes you wonder if all those people buying the song realized what a downer it really was, despite its peppy beat and call-and-response lyrics.

The song’s popularity helped to establish Cooke as a leading voice in soul music, and it has since become a classic of the civil rights era.

10. “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons”

Song Year: 1957

The Ink Spots and Nat King Cole had hits with “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” in the 1940s, but they were mellower, jazzier iterations of the song. Cooke put his own R&B spin on it in the late 1950s and scored a top-20 hit with it.

It’s a song about why the narrator loves their significant other, and its simple, heartfelt message has made it a popular choice for wedding first dances and other romantic occasions.

11. “Good Times”

Song Year: 1964

“Good Times” is about living in the moment, and the narrator goes so far as to say that we should have fun now since we don’t know if we’ll ever feel as good as we do at this moment ever again.

It peaked at number 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart and has remained a constant presence on mix tapes (back in the day) and playlists (in the 21st century) for parties. And that’s James Jamerson on bass, one of the most influential players of all time and a mainstay of Motown recordings.

12. “You Were Made For Me”

“You Were Made For Me”

Song Year: 1958

Cooke lists off different things and what their purpose is in “You Were Made for Me” before getting around to his point— that his girl was made for him. It’s a romantic song that seems custom-made for slow-dancing to.

It’s not a sappy ballad, but rather a mid-tempo song complete with doo-wop backing vocals and a vibraphone. Still, it’s a song that makes a mark.

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