Vinyl Corner : Sam Cooke ‘Ain’t That Good News’

Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For the first vinyl corner of 2021, we’re looking all the way back to 1964 and spinning a soul classic from Sam Cooke in the process.

The Music:

Considering his tragically early death, Sam Cooke’s discography is rather larger than one might expect. An immediate success, his 1957 debut album launched its author into a soaring trajectory which lent him enormous success in his day and an enduring influence upon multiple generations of great vocalists. It perhaps isn’t so surprising, therefore, that he felt compelled to strike while the iron was hot – yet it’s nevertheless surprising just how many albums he released in his decade-long career. It can therefore be difficult to know where to start when exploring his catalogue, yet 1964’s ‘Ain’t That Good News’ would seem to be as good a choice as any. Released at the height of Cooke’s popularity, this deeply confident collection is one which finds the virtuoso vocalist fully in the swing of his artistic machinations. As with all great soul figures, it’s his superb delivery which stands as his greatest asset – yet his abilities as a writer certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. ‘Ain’t That Good News’ is quite literally an album of two halves; side one offers a clutch of up-tempo sing-alongs, all warm washes of brass and infectious, immediately gratifying choruses. The likes of ‘Another Saturday Night’ and ‘Meet Me At Mary’s Place’ are confirmation enough of Cooke’s abilities as a writer of rock-solid pop music, yet it’s side two’s handful of lusciously-arranged ballads which demonstrate the full range of his abilities. Of those songs, the anthemic and enduringly-relevant ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ remains the obvious standout, yet the likes of ‘There’ll Be No Second Time’ are imbued with a similarly hair-raising gravitas.

The Pressing:

As is surely the case with any desirable title now the best part of six decades old, original pressings of ‘Ain’t That Good News’ are now difficult to find in suitably clean shape, so the availability of reissues is very much a necessity. Having been out of print on vinyl for quite some time now, this new reissue of ‘Ain’t That Good News’ seems timely; freshly remastered and pressed to a weighty slab of black wax, this latest issue of the album certainly offers positive first impressions. In the case of our copy, the record sits flat upon the platter during playback and, although visual inspection revealed a few minor visual imperfections from the manufacturing process, sound proved clean across both sides. We heard only a few of the slightest background crackles at a few points across side two, yet even then never anything close to intrusive; indeed, this reissue has in fact been pressed to commendable standards, with its sonics coming as similarly impressive. It’s most important, of course, that Cooke’s impassioned vocals come through clean and clear – and they do – but the clarity in the instrumentation shouldn’t be overlooked. The ballads on side two are particularly rich in their arrangements and the various sultry strings and stabbing brass attacks sound both realistic and bold.

The Packaging:

As long-term record collectors will likely know, most American LP releases from the ’50s and ’60s were presented in highly-attractive, heavyweight covers known as tip-on sleeves. Although we haven’t ourselves seen an original US release of ‘Ain’t That Good News’, it seems likely that it would indeed have been packaged in just such a cover. This latest reissue doesn’t go so far as to replicate that kind of higher-priced, premium presentation – but it does still offer a slick package. The cover itself is a fairly standard non-gatefold affair, manufactured from mid-weight cardstock. It feels reasonably solid in hand, even if it isn’t quite on-par with the kind of quality found in most vintage releases from the ’60s. The print itself is also impressive; the front cover’s colours are rich and clear, with text being reproduced sharply. There is a fairly large barcode printed onto the back cover and, as per usual here at Vinyl Corner, we would have preferred to have seen this attached to the shrinkwrap as a sticker. There are, however, a couple of hype stickers on the shrink – one boasting of the new remastering and another affirming this reissue to be a fully-licensed, official product. Perhaps the best element of the presentation can be seen in the printed paper inner sleeve in which the record is found; adorned with images of Cooke – in addition to in-depth liner notes, it rounds off the presentation of this well-produced reissue very attractively.

Final Thoughts:

Those intrigued by Cooke’s enviable artistic legacy could do far worse than to begin their exploration of his catalogue with ‘Ain’t That Good News’ and, for those sufficiently impressed with what they hear, this latest vinyl reissue proves a real winner.

Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!