23 Best Sam Cooke Songs

13. “It’s Alright”

Song Year: 1961

There’s a 1950s sensibility to “It’s Alright,” with the 12/8 swing feel and the repetitive backing vocals, but none of those elements are bad things.

Sam Cooke, backed by a salty string section and a piano line that could have been played by Little Richard, reassures his beloved that he’ll always be there for her. He gets the same reassurance from her since he knows everything will be fine as long as she loves him. It’s very sweet.

14. “Cupid”

Song Year: 1961

“Cupid” features Cooke’s smooth, soulful vocals over a bouncy, upbeat rhythm and a memorable melody. The lyrics find the narrator asking Cupid to resolve his love problems. If Cupid would only shoot this one specific woman, then the narrator could have her because she’d love him back.

The song reached number 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and has since become a classic of the soul and R&B genres. Notable covers of the song include versions by Johnny Rivers, The Spinners, and the late Amy Winehouse.

15. “Having a Party”

Song Year: 1962

“Having a Party” is a B-side (this one to “Bring It On Home to Me”) that became a hit on its own. That wasn’t unheard of, but it was unusual. The song is about, well, having a party. Good times are had by all when you have a party, and Cooke did his best to capture that feeling.

Once the song was released, it became a mainstay of his live performances, with Cooke usually saving it for last. During the performance, he’d bring the other acts on the bill back out onto the stage to sing it with him, creating a party right there in front of the audience.

16. “Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day)”

Song Year: 1964

True love is worth working for, according to “Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day).” Part of 1964’s Ain’t That Good News, the song has a gentle melody and heartfelt lyrics that encourage the listener to slow things down, and that good things take time.

It wasn’t released as a single, but it’s such a well-written song that fans embraced it and many artists have covered it, including Nick Lowe and Tom Gaebel.

17. “I’ll Come Running Back To You”

Song Year: 1957

“I’ll Come Running Back to You” features Cooke’s smooth vocals over a gentle guitar riff and staccato piano triplets. The lyrics tell of a man who promises to return to his lover no matter what obstacles stand in their way. The title phrase has become one of the most memorable and iconic phrases in Cooke’s discography.

The song was an early hit for Cooke, and breaking into the top 20, it helped cement his status as a rising star in the world of soul and R&B music.

18. “Ain’t That Good News”

Song Year: 1964

The title track of Sam Cooke’s final studio album features an upbeat melody, shin-kicking horns, and gospel-inspired backing vocals, and its lyrics celebrate the joy and hope that come with the promise of good news.

The song’s gospel roots may result from the tragic death of Cooke’s 18-month-old son Vincent, which had happened about six months before Cooke wrote and recorded it. Looking for good in the wake of a tragedy seems to be a universal human course of action.

19. “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Moving On”

Song Year: 1961

We’ve all come to that point in a relationship where the last straw falls, and that’s what “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Moving On” is about. The narrator has put his all into a relationship, but as the red flags have amassed, he’s finally had enough and ends things. It was a top-40 hit for Cooke, just one in an impressively long line.

20. “Falling in Love”

Song Year: 1963

Unrequited love is a bummer. That’s the gist of “Falling in Love,” which finds Cooke singing in the voice of a narrator who loves someone who doesn’t feel the same way. While it was written by an adult Cooke, there’s a certain teenage mentality in the lyrics, especially the part about how the narrator knows other people have endured this same heartache, but no one has suffered more than he is at this moment. Poor Sam.

21. “Frankie and Johnny”

Song Year: 1963

One of the stranger two-word phrases in the music business is “murder ballad.” That’s what “Frankie and Johnny” is, based on the true story of two 19th-century lovers that ended in gunfire.

Cooke’s version isn’t much of a ballad with that bluesy horn section screaming in the background. It works out to be something of a raucous piece of music, but you can still hear the tragedy of the tale in Cooke’s voice.

22. “Tennessee Waltz”

Song Year: 1964

Hundreds of acts (many of them country) have covered “Tennessee Waltz,” but Cooke’s version was the most driving, bolstered by the insistent horn section pushing the rhythm throughout.

While Patti Page made the song a gigantic hit in 1950, Cooke’s rendition was so different that it feels like an entirely new piece of music. It was the B-side to “Good Times,” but it still reached number 35 on the charts.

23. “Summertime”

Song Year: 1957

“Summertime,” written by George Gershwin for Porgy and Bess, is up there with The Beatles’ “Yesterday” when it comes to the most-covered songs of all. Seemingly everyone has done a version of it, from Billie Holiday to Janis Joplin to R.E.M.

And then there’s Sam Cooke. His version features a slow, jazzy arrangement with a gentle piano accompaniment and his smooth, soulful vocals. It wasn’t released as a single, but it has become a beloved cover of the classic song about the joys and pleasures of summertime.

Top Sam Cooke Songs, Final Thoughts

The untimely death of Sam Cooke robbed the world of a great deal of wonderful music that he undoubtedly would have continued making. Thankfully, he left behind a wealth of material before that sad day in 1964. These songs represent some of his best work.

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