Sam Cooke – Legend
Sound: C+ Extras: B Documentary: B
Issued as part of ABKCO Records’ first wave of remarkable
Super Audio CDs of Same Cooke, the Legend DVD-Video offers a
70-minutes-long version of the exceptional VH-1 Legends series broadcast
focusing on the all-time music great, then adds two hours of unseen interview
footage that could not fit in the original program. The result is one of the most comprehensive programs ever
assembled on a single music act in documentary form.
The program takes its time in giving us Cooke’s roots and
family origins, his years of growing up, his time in the church, and his rise
to stardom in Gospel music. The
national success he experienced there, however remarkable for that music genre,
would be topped by his groundbreaking years as one of the record industries’
top acts. He would also be one of the
very first artists to understand the need for creative control behind the
scenes, legal ownership of publishing & master tape recordings, and what
was talking hold as a major revolution in music thematically and technically in
the early 1960s. Horrifically, he never
lived to see that promised land.
Shot under what definitely still seems like strange
circumstances, Cooke had already broke down racial barriers and was supporting
the then-new Civil Rights movement when a female hotel clerk shot him
dead. A proper investigation was never
fully implemented, but something will never be right about it.
The majority of the main program is devoted to his musical
awakenings, innovations, appeal, stunning commercial success (especially for an
African-American in the late 1950s), his time as the #2 artist behind Elvis
Presley at RCA, an unusually rich focus on his family and faith, and his
amazingly good taste in music. He was a
song stylist, as well as one of the greatest voices ever committed to a song
recording. The 70-minutes never gets
dull, feels padded out, or becomes repetitious. It is one of the greatest stories of music ever told.
The full-screen image is the usual documentary combination
of old film, videotape, and kinescope footage that is both full color and
monochrome. It also comes along with
stills and analog NTSC color videotaped footage of interviewees including
Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Bobby Womack, Lloyd Price, Lou Adler, Luigi
Creatore, and a very generous number of Cooke family members reflecting on Sam
and his permanent place in world music.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is not bad, but the songs are absolutely no
match for the sound on even the CD tracks of the new SACD releases of Cooke’s
music, including titles like Ain’t That Good News, Keep Movin’ On,
Sam Cooke – Portrait of a Legend 1951 – 1964, Sam Cooke at the Copa,
Tribute to a Lady (oddly not available in the U.S. or Canada), and Sam
Cooke’s SAR Records Story. The
combination is of the technically above-average kind typical of most
The two hours of interviews are a huge enhancement of the
main program, while a nicely presented discography covers all his singles and
albums, which are quite long lists. The
packaging might be of the controversial thin DigiPak type used on titles like Panic
Room, Grease and Saturday Night Fever, but its fullness and
reach should not be underestimated.
This Legend presentation is a most fitting tribute and great
companion to the SACD re-issues, also reviewed on this site when we return.
- Nicholas Sheffo