The first time I heard Sam Cooke sing was in 1987, during the sci-fi comedy flick Innerspace. A few of his tunes played prominently in the plot featuring studly aviator Dennis Quaid, fresh-faced journo Meg Ryan, and goofy grocery clerk Martin Short, and while I liked the movie—I loved the music.
I was six years old at the time, but Cooke's voice stood out as something special. Plus, c'mon, it's tough to argue with cinematic soundtrack magic like this:
Even in the late 1950s and early 1960s—an era of hugely distinctive voices—this dude's carried above the rest; he was smooth like no other, with a vocal register that managed to be a million things all at once. You name it, Cooke could swing it: pop, gospel, get-up-and-dance-y, sad, sweet, sexy, soulful. Swoooon.
While it's near impossible to pick an all-time favorite song, today, right now, I'm going to go with Bring It On Home to Me. I go all funny inside from the opening chords, every single time.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention here the bang-up version by The Animals, whom I became quite infatuated with as a middle schooler (young Eric Burdon might still be my biggest ever celebrity crush…).
I'd also definitely recommend a listen to the rollicking Live at the Harlem Square Club 1963.
A few years ago I happened to catch a documentary about Cooke on PBS—view it here in full—and man, his life was not as blissed out as his repertoire. I'd recommend watching the whole thing, but be prepared for some heartbreak (and shock if you're not familiar with how he died).
But let's end this soundtrack on a lovely note, with Sam sending us off.