Saturday, January 14, 2017


Well it is, isn't it? And it would have, anyway, because everything changes, that's a fact, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen. Which is about as philosophical as I am going to get. So I am not going to trump on about politics, probably a relief, because everyone everywhere else will be. But I am going to celebrate this wondrous song, particularly as it later became quite an anthem for civil rights, something we could maybe start storing up in reserve. (Sorry, I said I wouldn't.....)

The b-side to a latter-day single in his career, Cooke was moved to write and record it, late 1963 into 1964, after an incident where he had been turned away from a whites only motel in Shreveport, Louisiana. A Holiday Inn. Despite being, arguably, a previously light-weight lyricist, perfect for the pop-soul that endeared him to a largely white audience, he had also been stung by Bob Dylan's emergence, social conscience a'blazing, so he seized the moment. ("Blowin' in the Wind" was a staple in Cooke's live set.) His producers, inevitably warned against the risks of alienating his fans, hence it's appearance on the flip of "Shake." No, me neither. Both "Shake" and the album both the songs appeared on, "Ain't That Good News", actually his last, sold modestly by Cooke's standards. But that has been dwarfed by the legacy and life of the song, voted number 12 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, as well as being selected for posterity within the Library of Congress, as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically important." All three, say I. But I am ahead of myself. Cooke actually only once played the song live, on TV, the Johnny Carson Tonight show. (I couldn't find any recording thereof to link, sadly.) It was then a full 10 months before the single was ready for release, which eventually took place, over a year after recording, in late December 1964. That release date was already planned, when Cooke was shot dead at another motel, this time in Los Angeles. Colour code uncertain.

There are myriad covers. Although maybe more the metier of the estimable Cover Me Songs, here are my favourite five.

For me, the song that makes The Band's 1973 album, "Moondog Matinee," an essential, the combination of Richard Manuel's keening vocal and the arrangement transformed from the orchestral splendour of the original to simple affecting sublimity.

Another radical revision of the arrangement, Herbie Hancock playing his jazz piano around, behind, on top of a conventional soul vocal version, englishman, James Morrison, the two morphing together just right. But only just.

An astonishing and the possibly OTT extravaganza that was Baby Huey. Just euphoric. Makes me, a middle aged white man, channel James Brown. Convincingly. (Maybe.)

Uncertain still whether this works, cello and the never-less-soul man Ben Sollee. On balance, it does.

Finally, an instrumental mix of all the styles shown above. And more. Bill Frisell, an alchemist of electric guitar, able to run with any genre and leave it resolutely unclassifiable beyond exquisite.

What a song, what a tune. Let it give confidence for the changes that will come. After all, it is all in the ear of the beholder.

Anyhow, don't get upset about the what if of politics, go here, cheer yourself up with some Sam.

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