A lost treasure amongst lost treasures, “Fool’s Paradise”, is buried deep on Sam Cooke’s largely unheralded “Night Beat” album from 1963, is one of my absolute favorite soul songs ever. It’s a shame this song and album aren’t more well-known, but it always made me feel like I was in on some kind of secret whenever I’d put it on a mix tape next to Eminem, Soundgarden or other song totally out-of-step with it.
Opening with a great vocal line by Cooke “I often think about the life I led, and ohh, it’s a wonder, I ain’t dead” (which is especially cryptic since he was tragically shot and killed less than 2 years later) accompanied masterfully by Ray Johnson’s piano, this song gets down to brass tacks quickly. Essentially it’s the story of a young person getting mixed up with bad habits (namely drinking, gambling and staying out all night) while his parents lament his future. By the second verse a 16 year-old Billy Preston joins in on the organ to great effect as the narrator of the song begins to realize the error of his ways that have now given way to wisdom.
The real star of this show is Sam Cooke’s voice (naturally) and it’s featured front-and-center on this 2 minute and 34 second slice of soul heaven. I used to joke around when I first heard this album (I got it in 1995 as a curio from Media Play because the one in Southfield, MI had a poster of the cover of this record on the wall) that I’d give a testicle to sing like Cooke could. While not the most tasteful way to put it, the bottom line is that a voice like this was so special it’s worth celebrating and envying. This song, and “Get Yourself Another Fool” are 2 from this record I’d listen to tirelessly in my college years and are a prime examples of an absolute master at his craft.