Sam Cooke, singing and what it means to be a singer-writer

Let’s talk about Sam Cooke and singing and what it means to be a singer-writer. Or a writer-singer.

What does it mean to sing?

I know, I know—you sounded sublime this morning in the shower, when you channeled your inner Robert Plant and delivered a knockout “When the Levee Breaks,” or maybe you were Billie Holiday, with a soul-pasting version of “Lover Man.”

The Drum Machine That Helped Open Paul’s Boutique

When you talk about drum machines and Paul’s Boutique, there are two things that even casual listeners can probably hear. The first is that you don’t hear a lot of drum machines on the album. A big part of the record’s legacy is its sampled beats, assembled into intricate, polyrhythmic collages by The Dust Brothers and Matt Dike.

But Matt Dike thought it was less a song than an opportunity. “When I heard it,” he told me, back in 2005, “I knew they were in trouble.”

Sam Cooke In Action: Don’t get caught in the oldies trap!

Macbeth, of course, is a literary oldie. It’s an oldie that still informs our world. Vaulting ambition and all. I mention Macbeth and the idea of relevant oldies for a reason. Sam Cooke is often dogged by the oldies label. Oldies are a genre, right? You hear “Wooly Bully” and “At the Hop” and, yes, Cooke’s “You Send Me,” on the oldies station in the car, and all seems right with the world. These songs are where they should be. You’re having a nice Sunday drive with the windows down in early autumn.

Becoming a Voracious Listener with Sam Cooke

Guest post by Colin Fleming Take the Sam Cooke path and be a VL (Voracious Listener)—it will serve you well in every aspect of life. Hello 33 1/3-ians! I’m back for guest blog entry number two, with this dossier of supplementary Sam Cooke materials. Let’s get to it! Do you remember the age you were when you first got into a given artist or work of art that you care about a lot? I bet you probably do. And you can pinpoint what it meant to you at that moment.…

Sam Cooke: Living with Art

Greetings 33 1/3 readers! I’m excited to be talking with you here in a few blog posts I’m going to do pertaining to my book in the series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963. I imagine I’m likely speaking with some wise, veteran readers in the series, but perhaps some sagacious newcomers too, to whom I say welcome! I do a lot of writing on my own blog over at my website, so this seemed well up my street and I’m stoked to get started with you.

The ArchAndroid: The extended interview with Wendy Morgan

Janelle Monáe’s work has never been confined to only one medium. She is a singer and musician first, of course, but the stories she tells have always worked best as joint musical and visual projects, where their grand scope can best shine. It’s with Dirty Computer and its accompanying visual album that this impulse fully materializes, but even with The ArchAndroid music videos were an important addition to the Cindi Mayweather story. For that reason, speaking to music video director Wendy Morgan felt like a crucial part of researching a…

The ArchAndroid: The extended interview with Kevin Barnes

With so much of The ArchAndroid coming out of Janelle Monáe’s own Wondaland Arts Society, there’s one song, “Make the Bus,” that stands out as a little bit different. The song is the brainchild of Kevin Barnes, founder of the indie pop band Of Montreal, and a free-wheeling ode to the creative partnership that existed between Of Montreal and Monáe’s inner circle in the lead up to The ArchAndroid’s release. 

The ArchAndroid: The posthuman, the utopia, the conclusion

ALYSSA FAVREAU, AUTHOR OF JANELLE MONÁE’S THE ARCHANDROID, ON THE POSTHUMAN SUBJECT One of my favorite things about this book is that it gave me the opportunity to put The ArchAndroid into conversation with a wide range of ideas and thinkers. The album is not only a musical masterpiece, it also lends itself very well to being read like a work of literature. In the book, I talk about how Monáe’s persona, Cindi Mayweather, is a perfect example of the cyborg as conceptualized by Donna Haraway in her “Cyborg Manifesto,”…

The ArchAndroid: Cindi Mayweather before The ArchAndroid

ALYSSA FAVREAU, AUTHOR OF JANELLE MONÁE’S THE ARCHANDROID, ON WHAT INSPIRED HER 33 1/3 It was Cindi’s story that first fascinated me. I loved Janelle Monáe, of course, loved her music and style, and the obvious passion she brought to everything she touched. But it was Cindi Mayweather—the runaway android, the citizen of twenty-eighth-century Metropolis, the cybersoul superstar, the messianic ArchAndroid—who really got to me, stayed with me, and made me want to write a book about her. The story of Cindi Mayweather, sprawling as it does across several albums,…

The ArchAndroid: The intro and companion playlist

Trying to fit all of the musical, literary, and cinematic influences that came together to create Janelle Monáe’s concept album The ArchAndroid into one 33 1/3 has been a fascinating, if difficult, project. The story of Cindi Mayweather—runaway android wanted for the crime of loving a human and destined for messianic greatness as the ArchAndroid—is rich in a way that defies distillation. The story can unfurl itself in a thousand configurations, coming to mean something different to every listener.