16 February 2004

shuffle: sam cooke, "tennessee waltz"
he has done far more important and influential work, but this is in all likelihood my favorite sam cooke track. in a move of c&w recasting that would have made brother ray proud, cooke takes patti page's waltz and reimagines it, at perhaps the fastest tempo he'd ever record, as a twist. there's a note he hits at 2:15 which stirs the soul like nothing else he ever sang, even going back to the gospel days; singing along as i inevitably do, it's a note i've only hit once or twice, in incredibly euphoric or enthusiastic moods. so, obviously, where sam parts from ray is in his sympathy with the material. who knows, maybe he just really loved the melody: belle & sebastian liked it so much that they recorded it with new lyrics and title -- which is generally considered more of a rip-off than homage, but, you know, "slow graffiti" is a great song. so, patti's lament becomes a good riddance, a hit the road, jack, to a no-good woman and a false friend. two birds with one stone. sorted.

sam cooke was the first artist i took to that i had in common with my father. my first cooke tape was made by dubbing his a man & his music lps. it was something that was difficult to come to terms with. after all, one is supposed to break from their parents, not sit around and listen to records with them.

my father is a difficult guy to make out. he's a contemporary of many of the legendary first-wave of rock & rollers, and yet he's never been a rock & roll guy, despite having owned a bar in asbury park where a young bruce springsteen would play as he was finding his creative voice. like bruce, my father is a jersey guy, having grown up on the tough streets in nutley, new jersey. like many in the neighborhood, he had an attachment to the sounds of frank sinatra and nat king cole; not long afterwards, he'd become fond of the burgeoning doo-wop sound. singing, back then, was still seen as a very masculine thing, something the guys would do together on their stoops or at local talent shows.

for a bunch of roughnecks, one would think that rock & roll would come natural to them, yet for my father and his crew, there was a great deal of reluctance. sure, rock & roll was tough, but perhaps it lacked beauty. sure, up front, dion, or whomever, would be singing defiantly about his louche ways, but in the background the belmonts would be singing a beautiful harmony. and, besides, who could afford instruments? kids with garages and front lawns -- that is suburban kids.

dion, actually, would be a good point of comparison. i contest that he has the greatest rock voice i've ever heard, and yet i think one could argue that he never really made a rock 'n' roll record; that, even after he dispatched the belmonts, he still maintained the core elements of their sound. which, in part, could explain his post-beatles chart difficulties. for his part, dion would alter his sound and experience success as a folk-rocker before public indifference and a terrible drug habit would be his undoing. my father... he never compromised. as far as he's concerned, the music died in 1962, and he's still listening to those same records. great records, to be sure, as i've been lucky enough to discover. today, he's far removed from the old neighborhood, if only figuratively speaking, but i think he hears the echoes still in those four-part harmonies. the people have moved on, the places have been paved over, but when the needle hits the groove, it's nutley all over again, and he's remained true to it.

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