Try A Little Love
Release Date: October 20th, 1965
Words by: Jeff Schwachter
October 21st, 2015
In the years that followed Sam Cooke’s murder, (on December 11, 1964 by motel manager, Bertha Franklin), a string of albums were issued. Most comprised of unreleased material taken from Cooke’s various recording sessions, including a good chunk from his final 12 months in the studio.
Try a Little Love, released in October of 1965, is the second of these RCA albums. Its title track, cut during the final year of Cooke’s dynamic recording career, was released as a single in early October.
The album’s predecessor, Shake was a major hit in the weeks and months following Cooke’s shocking death. Released in January 1965, Shake included the title track hit as well as an edited “single” version of Cooke’s magnificent last living testament, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” as well as songs culled from much earlier Keen and Speciality recording sessions.
As the unparalleled singer, songwriter, record label owner and heralded “King of Soul” was stirring things up in the mid-1960s world of American music — by starting his own label as early as 1961 and eventually owning the rights to his own publishing and recordings by the time he died —the Civil Rights Movement was in full bloom and Cooke, in life and death, was a key figure in the political movement.
Ironically, one of his most powerful connections to the struggle was achieved after his death, as the song “A Change Is Gonna Come” was embraced by the movement and ultimately became its most powerful soundtrack.
Despite the courts ruling that Franklin acted in self-defence when she shot the singer at the Hacienda Motel, the actual events surrounding Cooke’s sudden and suspicious death still remain ultra murky. Try a Little Love, released just under a year after Cooke was shot, didn’t make it to No. 1 on the Billboard Top R&B Albums charts as Shake did, (it would just barely crack the Top 100 Albums chart), but the album did feature some previously unreleased recordings from his final months in the studio. Its title track — included with 22 other “rarities” on the 2002 ABCKO compilation Keep Movin’ On — would play an important role in the history of American song; namely, the Otis Redding hit “(Try a Little) Tenderness”.
According to Peter Guralnick’s excellent Sam Cooke biography Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, the song “Try a Little Love” dates back to a demo session Cooke and music business partner J.W. Alexander produced in the late 1950s. Written as a “sideways” adaptation of the original crooner’s version of “Try a Little Tenderness” — originally recorded by the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1932, subsequently covered by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and countless others — it was recorded by Cooke around the time he demoed “Cupid”, but was never issued during his life.
That is, until October 1965, when RCA Victor decided to name its new Sam Cooke product — out just in time for the holidays — “Try a Little Love”, and release its title track as the album’s first single.
The album peaked at 120 on the Billboard Albums chart and took fans back in time to a much more glossy, poppy, and sleepy period in Cooke’s recording career, unlike the forward-minded, yet true to its gospel roots, music Cooke was making just before he died.
Featuring just two original compositions, the title track and his 1957 hit “You Send Me”, the albums’ other songs were penned by Alexander, Ray Evans and Jay Livingston.
While the strings-drenched “Try a Little Love” features an extraordinary vocal by Cooke, it’s both the number’s origins and connections to the future of soul music that are most noteworthy.
Cooke’s take on “Try a Little Tenderness”, the crooner’s version, was adapted into “Try a Little Love”, much like “A Change Is Gonna Come” was his answer to Bob Dylan’s 1963 “Blowin’ in the Wind”.
Interestingly, and possibly something that Redding took to heart when titling his version of the decades-old tune, the earlier version of “Try a Little Love” was re-cut and re-named “Tenderness” later in Cooke’s prolific career, but never issued. It was eventually included as an “unreleased” track on the 2000 RCA box set The Man Who Invented Soul, but has sound and lyrics as “Try a Little Love.”
Years after writing “Try a Little Love”, Cooke would hear the “new” revved-up version of “Try a Little Tenderness” on the 1962 Columbia album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin. That’s the gospel-tinged version of the song that was popular following a modification in 1951, credited to the influential Ohio stage performer of the 1940s and early 1950s: Little Miss Cornshucks, and it’s the version of the song that Cooke’s successor (Otis Redding) would record in 1966, backed by Booker T. & the MGs, for Stax.
The fact that Cooke started out as a singer in the church and was one of the first artists to fuse gospel and popular music into a sound of its own, brings the story of this song back even closer to home.