Sam Cooke could be as smooth as silk, popping out chart-topping hits with a light, sophisticated pop touch. But he could also return to his gospel roots -- where he was already a star singer with the legendary Soul Stirrers -- and churn out a slow-burning soul ballad like "Bring It on Home to Me."
Sung as a duet/two-part harmony with then-relatively unknown Lou Rawls, the song is stripped-down and pretty raw by Cooke's secular pop standards -- even with the light string orchestration. The bulk of the 1961 recording is dominated by Ernie Freeman's piano, drums, a little sax riffing, and, above all, the vocal harmonies of Cooke and Rawls. The two compliment each other perfectly, with the baritone Rawls taking the low harmony to Cooke's tenor melody. The two men, singing the part of the narrator together, beseech a woman to come back, acknowledging a grievous error in letting her leave: "I know I laughed when you left/But now I know I only hurt myself/Baby, bring it to me/Bring your sweet loving/Bring it home to me." Still, the narrator can't help but get a dig in during the final verse, an explanation and justification of sorts: "You know I tried/To treat you right/But you stay out, stay out all night/But I forgive you, bring it to me/Bring your sweet loving/Bring it on home to me."
The song -- a Top 20 single in 1962 -- came out two years after musical maverick Cooke formed his own independent SAR label, as well as publishing and management companies, thus becoming influential in the music business as an African-American artist taking control over record marketing, promotion, and sales. It was also in 1960 that Cooke left the Keen label, moving to the powerhouse major RCA. Ironically, it was the move to the major that coincided with Cooke's decided turn back to his gospel roots musically. His management company was responsible for Rawls, whose association with Cooke went back to high school and who also had gospel roots. Notable covers of the oft-recorded "Bring It on Home to Me" include recordings by such Cooke disciples as Rod Stewart (Smiler ), Otis Redding -- with Carla Thomas on King & Queen (1967) -- and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee (Sonny and Terry).