Al Kooper’s career began as a teenager when he joined the band The Royal Teens. The group had a couple of hits and even played on bills that featured major artists like Dion and the Belmonts. Not a bad start for a kid.
During the early 1960s, Al Kooper spent a great deal of time in the recording studio as a session player. Al Kooper’s reputation as a musician would soar after he recorded the famous organ part on Bob Dylan’s classic 1965 song “Like A Rolling Stone.” A year later, Al Kooper would join the band The Blues Project in which he would record three albums with the band.
In 1968, Al Kooper founded the band Blood Sweat & Tears. Although Al Kooper would only record one album with the group, his contributions to the band across the board would have an incredible impact on the music industry and pop culture in so many ways.
Shortly after leaving Blood Sweat & Tears, Al Kooper recorded the album Super Session with Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills. Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper would record two albums together. Super Session and The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper were released in 1968 and 1969. A live performance from 1968 was subsequently released in 2003 on a CD entitled Fillmore East: The Lost Concert Tapes 12/13/68. While there are so many more Al Kooper collaborations to mention, the heartbeat of this Al Kooper songs list is fueled by Al Kooper’s solo albums.
Al Kooper released his first solo album in 1969 entitled I Stand Alone. From that point on, Al Kooper would continue to release solo albums over the next fifty years. I Stand Alone was followed by You Never Know Who Your Friends Are in 1969, New York City (You’re a Woman) in 1971, A Possible Projection of the Future / Childhood’s End in 1972, Naked Songs in 1973, Act Like Nothing’s Wrong in 1977, Championship Wrestling in 1982, Rekooperation in 1994, Black Coffee in 2005 and White Chocolate in 2008.
These solo records are albums filled with incredible substance bathed in deep, well written, creative witty songs, top tier productions and stellar musicianship and performances. Al Kooper’s experiences working with and appearing on albums by Bob Dylan, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix must have had a profound effect on his own body of work as a composer and producer.
When composing any type of article on Al Kooper, one should also not fail to mention the work Al Kooper did producing the first three Lynyrd Skynyrd albums, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd in 1973, Second Helping in 1974 and Nuthin’ Fancy in 1975. It was a time period in Al Kooper’s life when he put his own solo career one hold to work with what would become one of the most loved rock bands of all time.
Al Kooper was an artist that recorded albums filled with a varying degree of cover songs and originals. Kooper’s work as a producer infiltrated his solo work with what appeared to be his love for putting his own spin on classic songs. All of that presented us with a problem in putting together this top 10 Al Kooper songs list. We decided to deal with it by only including songs just written by Al Kooper.
We even went even further and avoided most songs that Al Kooper composed with other songwriters. So a song like“This Diamond Ring,” which was a Gary Lewis hit and composed by Bob Brass, Irwin Levine and Al Kooper was excluded from this list. We had to have some sort of rubric in putting together this list so we just went with songs written only by Al Kooper. The one exception was a track from Super Session that was credited to Mike Bloomfield and AL Kooper.
We hope you enjoy this Top 10 Al Kooper songs list. This one is more than just a Top 10 list, it serves as a small insight into the legendary career of one of our favorite artists of all time….Al Kooper!
# 10 – Brand New Day
We open our Top 10 Al Kooper songs list with a fantastic track from Al Kooper’s Easy Does It album. It’s the perfect song to open an album. Everything about the song signifies a new start. From the positive themed lyrics to its big western movie style soundtrack orchestration, it just bleeds hope. Billy Joel always claimed it was The Beatles that served as his greatest inspiration. Nonetheless, when you hear the similarities between Al Kooper’s 1970’s “Brand New Day,” and Billy Joel’s 1973’s “Ballad of Billy The Kid,” one could arcge that Billy Joel had some Al Kooper records spinning on his turntable.
Al Kooper’s “Brand New Day,” was released during the Summer of 1970. The song was issued as the first single from the Easy Does It album. The album contained a guest list of over twenty five musicians contributing to the musical works on the record.
# 9 – New York City (You’re a Woman)
How could you not love a song that compares New York City to a woman? Well, maybe if you are a woman you might not find it as amusing as males do. Nonetheless, what we loved about Al Kooper is how he was able to present the anguish of men over women in such a brilliant artistic and yet very relatable fashion.
The great Al Kooper song “New York City (You’re a Woman),” was released on the album New York City (You’re a Woman). The album was released in the late Spring of 1971 on Columbia Records. The album was composed of a mixture of original Al Kooper songs and great covers. One of the highlights of the album was Al Kooper’s cover of Elton John’s “Come Down In Time.” Easily Elton John’s most underrated song.
Al Kooper’s recognition of that song just defined how connected Al Kooper was and still is with great music. Al Kooper is a brilliant artist, but his history as an artist, producer and writer also showcases just how big of a music fan Kooper is.
# 8 – Going Going Going
It’s tough to create a top 10 Al Kooper songs list and get past his first two records without filling the list immediately. However, it should be noted that Al Kooper continued to compose and release new music for the next forty years. He did not release a lot of material, but the stuff that he did release just bled that Al Kooper brilliance. One of our favorite post 1970s Al Kooper albums was his 2005 release Black Coffee.
We had to include at least one track from the great Black Coffee album. It was tough to choose. In the end, we went with the Al Kooper style blood soaked, blues infused, soul effort, “Going, Going, Going.”
# 7 – His Holy Modal Majesty
Hands down, the great record Super Sessions is one of the most loved albums in classic rock history. The album is credited to Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper & Stephen Stills. The album’s opening track “Albert’s Shuffle,” is usually regarded as the standout track on the record. However, our favorite track has always been the nine minute epic “His Holy Modal Majesty.” Simply, we have always found “His Holy Modal Majesty.” to be more interesting than the straight ahead blues of “Albert’s Shuffle,”
For those non musicians out there, the title of the track “His Holy Modal Majesty,” is based on the musician’s use of modal scales on the track. Every major scale in music has seven modal scales within the major scale. The Miles Davis album Kind Of Blue was the landmark album that made use of the modes in a very public way. Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield shine on this one. Along with bassist Harvey Brooks and drummer Eddie Hoh, the quartet made their own landmark recording on this track.
Even though the title of the album Super Sessions and the three names of Bloomfield, Kooper and Stills appear on the cover, it should be noted that none of the three musicians all played together on any one individual track. Mike Bloomfield only played on side one, while Stephen Stills only played on side two. Nonetheless, it’s an amazing album that any classic rock fan should have in their collection. Super Sessions was released in 1968
# 6 – Fly Away
Before Al Kooper began releasing his solo albums, before Blood Sweat & Tears and before Super Sessions, there was the Blues Project. In 1965 The Blues Project was formed in New York City. Al Kooper was a member of the band for the group’s first two albums. On the band’s second album entitled Projections, Al Kooper penned the track “Fly Away.”
The song “Fly Away,” was issued as the closing track on the record. The song served as a showcase for the tremendous potential that permeated through the pen of Al Kooper. However, it was not just about showcasing potential it was simply, also a great song.
# 5 – Jolie
Continuing with our top 10 Al Kooper songs list we turn to the 1973 album Naked Songs. From the late 1960s up until Naked Songs, Al Kooper maintained a busy release schedule of albums. After the release of Naked Songs, Al Kooper would turn his attention to producing a band that he saw incredible promise in. That band was our beloved Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Naked Songs contained the typical Al Kooper mix of originals and covers. Our favorite track on the album was the record’s second single entitled “Jolie.” The beautiful song turned out to be one of the most soulful songs Al Kooper had ever composed. Its melody and arrangement echoed the best of the 1960s classic soul recordings. Listen to that organ, listen to those soul infused backing vocals. It’s a shame this one does not get the airplay or mention it deserves. This is a great song
# 4 – Magic In My Socks
One listen to this song, and it’s obvious how big a role Al Kooper played on the first Blood Sweat & Tears album. Most Al Kooper fans already know that, but this track should convince any doubters. On the killer recording of “Magic In My Socks,” Al Kooper wraps that horn section around his screaming organ in a perfect dance of instrumentation to die for. This is exciting music that just screams for the repeat button to be engaged over and over again.
“Magic In My Socks,” was released in 1969. The song appeared on the album You Never Know Who Your Friends Are. The record was Al Kooper’s second solo album. “Magic In My Socks,” was the album’s opening number. The great album showcases a large ensemble of musicians that were under the direction of musician Charlie Calello. Al Kooper did not mess around. These were all fantastic musicians that were used to record the album.
# 3 – I Stand Alone
As we get closer to the number one spot on our Al Kooper songs list, we turn to Al Kooper’s first solo album appropriately titled I Stand Alone. This was the first time that Al Kooper would release a record that focused just on himself as the spotlight artist. The album was released in 1969. The cover featured a photograph of Al Kooper posing as the Statue of Liberty. The symbolism between the album cover, the record’s title, and the circumstances that led up to Al Kooper’s first solo album all combined brilliantly in defining what Al Kooper had been through leading up to the solo album’s release.
“I Stand Alone,” was the second track in the record after the opening “Overture.” The song was written by Al Kooper. “I Stand Alone,” was never released as a single. Nonetheless, it’s one of our all time favorite Al Kooper songs.
# 2 – Hollywood Vampire
Most casual Al Kooper fans would probably be surprised by the song “Hollywood Vampire,” landing in such a high spot on his top 10 Al Kooper songs list. However, the hardcore Al Kooper fans wouldn’t bat an eye at seeing the inclusion of this fabulous track in this spot. Hands down, “Hollywood Vampire,” is one of the greatest recordings Al Kooper has ever released. There is no doubt about it “Hollywood Vampire,” is also his most overlooked song.
“Hollywood Vampire,” was the closing track on Al Kooper’s Act Like Nothing’s Wrong album. The song’s three chord opening piano riff is met with a thunderous explosion of bass, drums and brass that will blow you away instantly. The best way of describing the songs is as if you took Elton John’s “Madman Across The Water,” style and blended it with Billy Joel’s “Ballad of Billy The Kid,” with a little Chicago mixed in, you get “Hollywood Vampire,” This is great stuff with a killer guitar solo played over the last two minutes of the song. If you don’t know this one, press play now!
1. I Can’t Quit Her / I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
Okay, I guess we’ve had to cheat a little bit here in the number one position on our top 10 Al Kooper songs list. Al Kooper composed six great songs on The Blood Sweat & Tears debut album Child Is Father To The Man. Unfortunately, we only have 10 spots to fill on this top 10 Al Kooper songs list. We wanted to make sure that we covered a large portion of Al Kooper’s career on this list.
Most people argue that these top 10 songs list are just simply ridiculous. We have to admit they are probably right. Nonetheless, they do serve two purposes. Number one is they are fun to do and number two is that they introduce younger fans to music they have no clue even existed. Believe me, I am a secondary school teacher in New York working with 12, 13 and 14 year OLDS who never heard of the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin.
Al Kooper’s songs “I Can’t Quit Her,” and “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know,” were two of the biggest hits on the Blood Sweat & Tears debut album. Al Kooper has performed those two songs as a solo artist throughout his entire career. They are such extraordinary compositions, recordings and performances of music we are kind of at a loss for words in describing them. All that’s really left to say is “Thanks Al.”
Mr. Kooper had brought so much joy into the lives of millions of music fans, we hope this list helps in any sort of fashion in turning people on to the great music of Al Kooper.
Updated June 20, 2023
Top 10 Al Kooper Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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