Our Top 10 Sam Cooke Songs list looks back at the career of one of the earliest and most important artists in classic rock history. Cooke’s first professional singing gig came about when he joined The Stirrers in 1950. He had a total of thirty Top thirty hits in the US between the years of 1957 and 1964, the year of his death. He then went on the have three more posthumously. Cooke was very much a pioneer in black music in the sense that he was involved in the business side of his career at a time when the music industry was largely white dominated. He also was very active in the civil rights movement.
His first single as pop artist was “Loveable” in 1956, a remake of the gospel song “Wonderful.” This was his first step from being a gospel performer and becoming a more populist artist. In 1957 he had his big hit with “You Send Me” which spent six weeks at the top of the American R&B charts, as well as three weeks on the mainstream Billboard Charts.
In 1960, Cooke signed with RCA Victor after which he had a string of hits, the first of which was “Chain Gang” which reached number two on the Billboard. Then in 1961, he formed his own label named SAR Records which signed several of the other crucial rhythm and blues artists of the time. Like many in his genre, Cooke was primarily focused on singles. Unlike the likes of Sam & Dave, he actually wrote the majority of his material himself.
Cooke died in December 1964 after being shot dead. He produced fourteen studio albums in total. Although never winning any awards during his own lifetime, he has received many accolades posthumously. These include being inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in addition to this, he has received his own star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He also received a posthumous Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1999. He has also been cited as one of the greatest artists of all time in many publication’s all-time greatest lists.
# 10 – Ain’t That Good News
Kicking off this list is the single taken from the album of the same name released in 1964. It reached number eleven on the Billboard and topped the Cashbox R&B charts. It is actually an updated version of an old gospel song. Cooke’s version has been covered by a number of artists including Otis Rush, The Supremes and King Curtis.
# 9– I’ll Come Running Back To You
This early track was a single released in 1957. It was an early number one R&B hit for Cooke and reached number eighteen on the Billboard. It was recorded in New Orleans under the supervision of Bumps Blackwell. It was very quickly released following the success of the previous single “You Send Me.”
# 8 – Wonderful World
Up next is an absolutely brilliant song released in 1960 that was never included on any of Cooke’s original studio albums. It reached number one the R&B charts and number twelve on the Billboard Hot 100. Herman’s Hermits had a big hit with their cover in 1965. Other artists to have covered it include Otis Redding, Art Garfunkel, Don Mclean, and Michael Bolton.
# 7 – Twistin’ the Night Away
Continuing with our top 10 Sam Cooke songs list we turn to one of our favorite Sam Cooke songs. Jumping aboard the twist craze made popular by Chubby Checker, Sam Cooke’s Twisting The Night Away was a pop gem released in 1962. It was also the title track of Cooke’s eighth album. It reached number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was another that yet again topped the R&B charts. Rod Stewart later recorded his own version in 1974 and had a huge hit with it. Then later in 1985 drag queen icon Divine recorded his own version for his album Maid in England.
# 6– Chain Gang
At number six on our Sam Cooke songs list is another of Cooke’s most successful singles released in 1960 from his sixth album Swing Low. It peaked at number two on both the R&B and Billboard charts, as well as toping the UK for the first time, marking his debut in the top ten over there. Eight years after its release, it was recorded by Jackie Wilson and Count Basie.
# 5 – You Send Me
Charting at number five is an early Sam Cooke single released in 1957. It was later featured on his debut album Songs of Sam Cooke released the following year. The song is without a doubt one of the most successful debut singles of all time, reaching the top of not just the R&B charts but also the Billboard Hot 100 as well.
# 4 – Another Saturday Night
At the number four spot on our top 10 Sam Cooke songs list is Cooke’s 1963 hit single from his album Ain’t That Good News. It was very successful commercially, topping the R&B charts, as well as reaching number ten on the Billboard Hot 100. It also did well in the UK, reaching number twenty-three on the UK Music Charts. In 1974, Cat Stevens recorded a cover of it which was also successful, notably reaching number one twice in Canada.
# 3 – That’s Where It’s At
In third place is a single that was released in 1964. Despite being recorded in 1963, it was not released until the following year. It is one of Cooke’s most unsuccessful singles, peaking at the shockingly low position of ninety-three on the Billboard Hot 100. Despite this, the song has received much acclaim over the years from critics, often being considered to be one of the greatest soul singles ever made.
# 2 – Shake
Just off the top spot is a cut that was recorded at the last recording session before Cooke’s death in 1964. It was a posthumous hit, reaching number seven on the Billboard and number two on the cashbox R&B charts. Artists to have covered the song include The Animals, Otis Redding, Ike and Tina Turner, Rod Stewart and The Supremes.
# 1- A Change is Gonna Come
Topping this list is a song from Ain’t That Good News released in 1964. The song is one of the most poignant records ever made and widely regarded as an anthem of the civil rights movement. Although it is not one of Cooke’s most commercially successful, reaching number nine on the R&B charts and number thirty-one on the Billboard, it is widely considered to be his best work.