Sam Cooke: Portrait Of A Legend 1951-1964

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Sam Cooke: Portrait Of A Legend 1951-1964

Postby lukpac » Tue Jun 17, 2003 10:55 am

Circuit City didn't have any of the new CDs today. Best Buy just had this one (two copies). A brief review as I listen.

First off, as with the Stones, the packaging is a Digipak. A single fold with a (large) booklet glued inside. There's a paragraph for each track, and notes at the end with where each song was recorded.

Win Your Love For Me - This has always been an interesting case. The Man And His Music had a complete version in stereo, although it was a very *strange* stereo. A lot of hiss, a lot of "room sound", and Sam's voice didn't stay dead center. Greatest Hits had the song in dry mono, the same length as Man And His Music. The box set had a better sounding version of the stereo mix, but it faded about 15 seconds early.

And that brings us to the new disc. First off, it's mono. Second, it's almost as long as the "complete" versions. However (and this is a big one), there's an overdubbed vocal track not present on any of the other versions. Was this what the original single sounded like (I don't know)? Whatever the case, it's an interesting difference.

(What A) Wonderful World - THIS is interesting. To my knowledge, this song has only ever shown up in mono, other than an "add-a-track" stereo version. Well, it's in stereo here. Nothing mind blowing, but stereo nevertheless. Almost like the stereo mix of Win Your Love For Me - Sam's vocal centered (dead center this time), with most of the instruments floating in "ambient space". I almost wonder if this was originally a twin-track recordnig (ie, 'hole in the middle') with some type of echo/ADT on the non-vocal track. The mix is pretty narrow, but it does widen up on the computer. One might think it were fake stereo if not for the drums and Sam's vocal being dead center.

The mixes of the RCA material are quite different from the mixes on Greatest Hits and The Man Who Invented Soul. First off, there seems to be more hiss - I had suspected that the BMG discs were processed with noise reduction, and this seems to be confirmed. Second, the stereo mixes are in general not quite as wide as on the BMG discs. It's not that apparent initially, but, a comparison with the BMG discs makes it obvious. That said, some tracks are still very wide (Chain Gang).

Chain Gang - As mentioned above, this one is very wide. However, it is still different from the BMG mix. Sam's voice is lower, as is the instrumentation in the left channel. There's more hiss, and Sam's voice in particular doesn't sound as processed as on the BMG CDs. It's still kind of a strange recording, but IMO this mix/mastering is better and the BMG attempt.

Bring It On Home To Me - Very narrow stereo.

After a brief listen the tracks already issued on Keep Movin' On don't sound very different.

It's interesting that some of the tracks are quite wide, even when they may not be well balanced (Chain Gang), while others are very narrow, yet well balanced (Bring It On Home To Me).

I think that's all for now. Could some of the mixes been better? Probably - I don't see any reason for keeping some narrowed down. But on the whole, I'd say the sound is quite good, IMO better than the BMG discs.

Here's the track list:

1. Touch The Hem Of His Garment (Cooke)
2. Lovable (Cooke & Harris)
3. You Send Me (Cooke)
4. Only Sixteen (Cooke)
5. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons (Watson & Best)
6. Just For You (Cooke)
7. Win Your Love For Me (Cooke)
8. Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha (Cooke)
9. I'll Come Running Back To You (Cook)
10. You Were Made For Me (Cooke)
11. Sad Mood (Cooke)
12. Cupid (Cooke)
13. (What A) Wonderful World (Cooke, Alpert & Adler)
14. Chain Gang (Cooke)
15. Summertime (Gershwin, Gershwin & Heyward)
16. Little Red Rooster (Dixon)
17. Bring It On Home To Me (Cooke)
18. Nothing Can Change This Love (Cooke)
19. Sugar Dumpling (Cooke) (re-make)
20. (Ain't That) Good News (Cooke)
21. Meet Me At Mary's Place (Cooke)
22. Twistin' The Night Away (Cooke)
23. Shake (Cooke)
24. Tennessee Waltz (Stewart & King)
25. Another Saturday Night (Cooke)
26. Good Times (Cooke)
27. Having A Party (Cooke)
28. That's Where It's At (Cooke & Alexander)
29. A Change Is Gonna Come (Cooke)
30. Jesus Gave Me Water (Campbell)

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Postby lukpac » Tue Jun 17, 2003 11:05 am

BTW, the mix of Good Times seems to match the mix on Keep Movin' On - no additional guitar as I've been told the mono mix has.

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Postby Rspaight » Tue Jun 17, 2003 11:16 am

This looks like a good package for Cooke neophytes (like me). I'll probably pick it up.

Ryan
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Postby lukpac » Tue Jun 17, 2003 11:20 am

Yeah, I'd say it's a good cross section, (wisely) ignoring his "supper club" recordings (think standards, a lot of plush strings, etc). There are a handful of songs that I would have liked to have seen on there, but I guess you can't have everything.

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Postby lukpac » Tue Jun 17, 2003 12:33 pm

Here's a quite interesting observation - on the CD layer, the hidden track "Soul" is only about 30 seconds. It includes Sam's hum, as well as a few words by Magnificient Montague. On the SACD layer, however, it goes on for almost 4 and a half minutes, with Sam and Montague chatting and going over Sam's recent songs.

The first "SACD bonus track"?

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Postby Rspaight » Thu Jun 19, 2003 2:13 pm

I'm enjoying this immensely -- the SACD layer, at least, sounds lovely. Sam and the backing singers are crystal clear. I'd heard most of this before, of course, but the songs I was unfamiliar with were as great as the "greatest hits." What a voice!

One minor nit -- the booklet is a bit of a pain in that the liner notes, recording information, and musician credits are in three separate sections, so have to flip back and forth a lot to get all the info on a particular track. (The musician index is nice to have, but listing the credits for each song is good, too.)

Thanks for covering this one, guys -- it might have slipped under my radar otherwise.

Ryan
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Postby lukpac » Thu Jun 19, 2003 8:58 pm

Glad you liked it, Ryan. Keep Movin' On might be a good second purchase when you feel like it. A lot of the good tracks are on Portrait, but there are plenty of others, including the great title track.

Agreed on the booklet. I found myself flipping back and forth earlier. ABKCO still seems to have problems in the artwork department. Although between 30 tracks and all the info in the booklet, it's an amazing deal.

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Postby Rspaight » Thu Jun 19, 2003 10:19 pm

It's an Internet forum, so I figured I had to gripe about *something* or they'd take away my DSL...

Ryan
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Postby chrischross » Sat Jun 21, 2003 2:56 am

Just picked this up today and gave it a serious listen. The strings and tympani on A Change Is Gonna Come really stand out for me as the highlight. My familiarity with Sam up until now was limited to the oldies station, but there is so much more than the radio staples of You Send Me, Cupid, Chain Gang, Twisting The Night Away, etc.

Gripes?? How about having the highest chart position obtained?? Almost every other tune must have charted in one way or another?

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Postby lukpac » Wed Jul 02, 2003 10:16 pm

Of course, the All Music Guide screws things up:

Some 46 years after his first pop hit and 39 years after his death comes only the second attempt at a comprehensive Sam Cooke collection. Portrait Of A Legend (1951-1964) eclipses RCA's early '80s The Man And His Music, going it better in running time and losing only one song — "Frankie And Johnny", arguably Cooke's most marginally important single — in the process of summing up his career. From 1951's Soul Stirrers' gospel classic "Touch The Hem Of His Garment" through to 1964's "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "Shake", we get a highlights of Cooke's career presented in state-of-the-art digital audio, superior in every way possible to the audio quality of The Man And His Music. What's more, this is a hybrid disc with SACD capability, and the sound on that layer is almost as much of a jump above the quality on the CD layer as this remastering is from the old Man And His Music disc; and either the standard CD or the SACD playback makes that 1980's-issued compilation sound faint and anemic. There's also annotation here — which was totally lacking on the earlier CD — by Peter Guralnick which delve very effectively into the background on each song. And the producers have taken the trouble to be a little inventive in the programming — it would have been easy enough to follow a strict chronological approach, but instead the disc opens and closes on Cooke's gospel roots, which is pretty much where his music started and where it ended up, bookending his first hit with his first session ever. — Bruce Eder


Let's see:

1) "Frankie And Johnny" wasn't on The Man And His Music.
2) There are actually six songs present on The Man And His Music that aren't on Portrait Of A Legend. That's Heaven To Me, When A Boy Falls In Love, Rome (Wasn't Built In A Day), Love Will Find A Way, Somebody Have Mercy and Soothe Me.
3) I continue to find the praise of ABKCO's SACD layers pretty dubious. The difference between The Man And His Music and Portrait is like night and day. The difference between the CD and SACD layers is minimal, at best, IMO. Do these guys really believe this, or are they just saying what ABKCO wants them to say?

BTW, am I the only one that thinks that some good/great Sam Cooke songs are ruined in the arrangements? Take Love Will Find A Way. Not a bad song, IMO, but those backing vocals just make me cringe.

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Postby mikenycLI » Thu Jul 03, 2003 12:23 am

Sounds like a word for word copy from a press release, Luke.

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$9.99 sale price at Best Buy

Postby MK » Tue Aug 26, 2003 5:08 pm

If anybody's looking to buy this, Best Buy's got it marked down for $9.99, at least in the Chicagoland area. Pick it up sometime this week.

(For what it's worth, Bob Marley's "Legend" - remastered with two bonus tracks, is also $9.99. I mention it because you can't get the remastered version in any CD club, so this is as good as it gets.)

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Re: Sam Cooke: Portrait Of A Legend 1951-1964

Postby MK » Tue Oct 07, 2003 4:11 pm

lukpac wrote:Win Your Love For Me - This has always been an interesting case. The Man And His Music had a complete version in stereo, although it was a very *strange* stereo. A lot of hiss, a lot of "room sound", and Sam's voice didn't stay dead center. Greatest Hits had the song in dry mono, the same length as Man And His Music. The box set had a better sounding version of the stereo mix, but it faded about 15 seconds early.

And that brings us to the new disc. First off, it's mono. Second, it's almost as long as the "complete" versions. However (and this is a big one), there's an overdubbed vocal track not present on any of the other versions. Was this what the original single sounded like (I don't know)? Whatever the case, it's an interesting difference.


Win Your Love For Me — There are a couple of versions of "Win Your Love For Me," and for a long time, the rarest one was the version released on "Portrait of A Legend 1951-1964." As mentioned, it boasts double-tracked backing vocals by Sam himself. This great version was featured in that god-awful, drippy "feel-good" treacle-of-a-movie "Pay If Forward," and can be found on the old Keen LP, "Hit Kit" as well as the out-of-print CD, "The Keen Years, Volume One."

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Postby MK » Sun Sep 03, 2006 1:39 pm

I've been comparing a few tracks ripped from the RCA box set (produced by Paul Williams and his people) and the redbook layer of the Portrait of a Legend SACD (mastered/transferred/restored by the usual conglomerate of ABKCO people, with Bob Ludwig doing the final mastering).

A few more notes...

"Only Sixteen" runs 10 seconds longer before fading out on the box set. It's nice because you hear Sam vocalizing more, which is always a plus because he's a damn fine singer. Everything starts dropping out, but Sam's voice is left up in the mix and the echo grows much more prominent...in other words, for these extra 10 seconds, it's just hearing Sam in the echo chamber. For sound quality, Portrait is better because the RCA box set sounds harsher and a bit thinner. Some judicious EQ would definitely help the RCA mastering, probably -2 dB at 8k or something similar, but it still sounds more processed. Both use the same stereo mix, which has some phase problems (painfully obvious in the hi-hat notes and whenever they sing "ssss-ixteen"). Does the mono mix have these problems?

I'm guessing "Chain Gang" was remixed for the box set and the ABKCO comp uses the original stereo mix...plausible since Williams admits to remixing while the ABKCO people really preferred the original stereo mixes and tried to get them whenever possible. The new mix runs like 6 seconds longer, and it's very different. The stereo spectrum is much wider, there's A LOT of separation between the background vocals and Sam's lead - on the ABKCO disc, the background vocals virtually bleed into Sam's while on the BMG set, Sam's voice is dead center while the background vocals are pushed farther right and farther down into the mix. I think some NR's been used, and overall it's a bit thin, but there's less compression, less echo, and Sam's voice comes in clearer. So some things to like about the mix, but the sound quality ain't so hot.

"Cupid" Again, two different mixes. The ABKCO version KILLS the BMG version. Just listen to Sam's voice, it's so much more natural on the ABKCO version, and on the BMG set...WTF did Williams do?

"Nothing Can Change This Love" - box set is a new mix with Sam's voice really upfront in the mix, the instruments way down. The ABKCO disc has the instruments up more, Sam's vocal down more, but everything is well-balanced. The box set is a touch drier, but there's some bad NR and harsh EQ here. Really sucks because I like hearing Sam's voice up in the mix.

"Having A Party" - two different mixes, the box set is much wider with strings thrown farther left and once again, Sam's voice farther up in the mix. It sounds pretty processed, I think some NR was used. ABKCO's definitely preferable.

"Twisting the Night Away" - two different mixes, and holy shit, the RCA's mix sounds anemic. WHERE'S THE BASS??? There's actually a nice bass-line that propels this song (pretty crucial for something you DANCE to) and it's right there in front of you on the ABKCO disc. On the RCA disc, it's virtually gone. No contest here.

"Sad Mood" - two different mixes, again, the box set is much wider with Sam's vocals up. The bass line is once again mixed down whereas it's much more prominent on the ABKCO disc. Again, the BMG box set sounds more processed, probably NR applied here. You know, Williams really sucks at this.

"Bring It On Home To Me" - two different mixes, the box set is much wider, but this one's got NR all over it. ABKCO's virtually mono but sounds much more natural.
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Postby lukpac » Sun Sep 03, 2006 3:35 pm

MK wrote:I'm guessing "Chain Gang" was remixed for the box set and the ABKCO comp uses the original stereo mix...plausible since Williams admits to remixing while the ABKCO people really preferred the original stereo mixes and tried to get them whenever possible.


As far as I know, ABKCO remixed everything as well. At least, that's my understanding. I've never heard the original LPs, but I thought they had added echo on everything, while the echo we're hearing on the remixes was on the 3-tracks.

The new mix runs like 6 seconds longer, and it's very different. The stereo spectrum is much wider, there's A LOT of separation between the background vocals and Sam's lead - on the ABKCO disc, the background vocals virtually bleed into Sam's while on the BMG set, Sam's voice is dead center while the background vocals are pushed farther right and farther down into the mix. I think some NR's been used, and overall it's a bit thin, but there's less compression, less echo, and Sam's voice comes in clearer. So some things to like about the mix, but the sound quality ain't so hot.


Hrmm. To me the mixes don't sound much different at all (the ABKCO is one of the few that wasn't narrowed). The *mastering*, on the other hand, is worlds apart. The ABKCO sounds really nice, while the BMG has NR and an oddly midrangy sound. Here's a comparison clip I made a while ago:

http://lukpac.org/mp3/samples/chain_gang-compare.mp3

First is the BMG, then the ABKCO. The differences should be pretty obvious (they switch back and forth).

Keep in mind these were only 3-track recordings...

FWIW, all of the narrowed ABKCO mixes widen up nicely.
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