Song 89 – You Send Me

SONG: You Send Me 

ARTIST: Sam Cooke

YEAR: 1957

Listen to it here: 


“You Send Me” was Sam Cooke’s first hit, and was released as the B-side to his song “Summertime”. It spent 6 weeks as number 1 on the Billboard R&B chart, as well as having mainstream success. On the success of this number, Sam Cooke went from making $200 a week to over $5,000 a week. 

Cooke wrote “You Send Me” but gave the writing credit to his younger brother because he didn’t want his own publisher to profit from the song. He had also hoped that his brother would record the song himself. 

Cooke was considered a crossover artist and as happened with many black artists, when his song got famous, record labels released a “white” version, but of course, Sam Cooke went ahead and eclipsed the “white” rendition in the pop charts. This was a big change of tide for the industry and maybe one of the first little cracks in the wall put up between black artists and white audiences.  


Sam Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1931. His actual last name is “Cook” and he added the E to the end in 1957 to signify his starting a new life. He was born into a large, religious family, where his dad was a Minister, and he was the 5th of 8 children. His family moved to Chicago when he was two years old, and he began his singing career just a few years later at age 6 in a group with his siblings called the Singing Children. From this point on, Cooke never stopped singing, moving from group to group and meeting other singers like Lou Rawls along the way.

Fast forward to 1950. Cooke was 19 years old and became the lead singer of the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. He replaced the founder of the group, R.H. Harris who had signed the Soul Stirrers to a record contract. Their early recordings with Cooke were all gospel songs like Jesus Gave me Water, Peace in the Valley, and How Far Am I from Canaan? Cooke’s voice accompanied by his good looks attracted a new mainstream audience to gospel with many young girls buying records and attending their concerts to get a glimpse of the steamboat, Sam Cooke.  

From 1957 to 1964, Cooke had 30 US Top 40 hits, and a few more posthumously, as he successfully navigated the tricky path of being a “crossover artist”. Many of his hits are probably familiar like You Send Me, Chain Gang, Wonderful World, and A Change is Gonna Come. Aside from his success as a musician, Cooke was one of the first modern black musicians to attend to the business side of his own career. He founded a record label and a publishing company, and was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement. 

Unfortunately Cooke’s private life and early death have at times overshadowed his music. Sam Cooke was married twice. He divorced his first wife after 5 years in 1958. She died in a vehicle collision the next year, and Cooke graciously paid her funeral expenses. In 1958, Cooke married his second wife, Barbara Campbell with whom he had three children. The youngest drowned in the family pool at age 2. Somewhat shadily, Cooke’s wife married his best friend Bobby Womack less than three months after his death. Womack went on to sexually abuse Cooke’s daughter Linda, and then in a very weird twist, Linda eventually married Womack’s brother (her step Uncle) and they formed the duo Womack & Womack.

Sam Cooke was killed at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964 in a Motel in Los Angeles. There is quite a bit of confusion and speculation regarding Cooke’s death. He was shot once in the heart. The motel manager claimed she shot Cooke in self-defense after Cooke barged into her office in search of a woman he had taken to the motel against her will. The only account of that is from the woman herself, whose account has been called into question several times due to inconsistencies in her own story and between her story and other witnesses.

Cooke’s family and supporters reject the girl’s version of events, claiming that there was a conspiracy to murder Cooke and that the murder took place entirely differently than the above account. Some have speculated that there was a lack of investigation into Cooke’s death, and that his body was in much worse condition than a single gunshot. There have been speculations that Cooke’s manager, Allen Klein, had a role in Cooke’s untimely death.


Sam Cooke attended Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, the same school that Nat King Cole had attended a few years earlier.


AGAIN, another song that’s going to be super tricky to write about objectively!  I love love love Sam Cooke.  I already own his albums on CD and vinyl but heeeere we go!  Firstly, Sam’s voice.  He’s smooth like butter, but definitely has more of an edge than some of his contemporary crooners, like Nat King Cole.  Nat is smooth, Sam is soulfully smooth.  I watched an interesting documentary about Sam on Netflix and it talks about how on television and on most of his records Sam is singing to appeal to white America, but then with his recordings in front of a Black audience, we hear a different, edgier, more soulful Sam.  This recording is definitely one of the ‘white’ ones.  I hear it most with the background singers, giving the obligatory oohs and aahs.  I honestly never really listen to the instrumentation when I listen to Sam because his voice is so commanding.  You could quiz me if there were drums on this recording and I couldn’t tell you (there’s a high hat, maybe some brushes?).  I went back a few times to consciously focus on the instruments…and I think there might actually only be a small drum kit and an electric guitar? The background singers are pretty loud and I had to strain to hear what else was going on.  But I’m not mad at it.  Sam is so present, charismatic, commanding that I believe he could take the most saccharine lyrics and turn them into a hit.  The lyrics to You Send Me are far from poetry – simple and basic, a pretty pedestrian little love song.  But he sings it so convincingly and so well that the banality of the actual lyrics doesn’t seem to bother me.   Cheers to Sam, may he rest in power.


Sam Cooke – sooooo good! I know this song very well, yet it was still a bit surprising to listen to it on its own with any other context taken away. First, this is not a work of art. The absolute best thing about it and what gives it a high mark is Sam Cooke’s voice. It’s just so smooth without being void of personality. He has a great musical personality and presence that on its own carries the whole song. Let’s be honest, the lyrics are pretty ok, the background singers need to turn it down a notch, and the backing band is so cheesy when it goes into these accented quarter notes. Also, like many songs already reviewed by us, this song has an un-thought-out ending, however, this song goes one better and also has a un-thought-out beginning. I’m not just saying that because it starts with the chorus – that’s ok, it can be done (see: Jolene). However it really feels like the song drops out of the sky fully formed and in the middle. Regardless of these details, Sam Cooke’s voice makes all of these faults forgivable.

Average mark out of 10:

Holly: 9/10

Kelly: 9.5/10

Other notable versions of this song:

Aretha, sounding like a queen:

Otis Redding sounds FANTASTIC in this slowed down version:

Listen with us!

Link to 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

Link to the Best of the Best 1,001 Songs to Hear Before You Die spotify playlist:

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