The pick of this season's CD box sets has to be Sam Cooke's SAR Records Story 1959-1965 (Abkco), an exemplary two-disc set covering the output of the record company that Cooke formed with S R Crain of the Soul Stirrers and J W Alexander, a small-time black businessman friend.
Cooke had reached the pinnacle of gospel music in the mid- Fifties as lead singer with the Soul Stirrers, before crossing over to a wider audience in 1957 with secular songs like "You Send Me" and "Wonderful World", inventing the sweet, gospel-inflected strain of soul music virtually single-handed. Realising there were countless others in the gospel field just as qualified to emulate his crossover success, he formed the company to help them over what could be a difficult transition - particularly if, asin his own case, the more sternly pious of the church brethren criticised singers for effectively "stealing" God's music.
It goes without saying that the music is of the highest quality, despite the understandable tendency of many of his proteges to try and imitate Cooke's peerless delivery: the two discs, dealing separately with gospel and soul recordings, trace how singers such as Johnnie Taylor and Bobby Womack made the transition from their respective gospel outfits (the Soul Stirrers and the Womack Brothers) to secular careers with the minimum of fuss and stylistic alteration. But there was a much greater importance to the SAR enterprise than merely forging soul from gospel music: as Peter Guralnick's excellent booklet explains, it was not so much a matter of business as of proving that black musicians could take care of business. Along with Berry Gordy's Motown operation, SAR demonstrated that there was a huge market out there, and that it need not be diluted by the anxieties of white businessmen.
The three-disc set of Tina Turner's Collected Recordings Sixties to Nineties (Capitol) is considerably less illuminating, and substantially inferior in every regard. The third of the discs covers the period from Private Dancer on, which even Tina's staunchest fans must be tired with by now, while the second gathers together a rag-bag of B-sides, out-takes and sundry odds and sods whose multi-faceted ghastliness can perhaps best be suggested by its inclusion not only of duets with the likes of Rod Stewart and Bryan Adams but also of Tina's contribution to Ken Russell's appalling film of Tommy.
It's the first disc, covering her career with Ike, which is the greatest offender, however: continuing the overworked subtext of the movie biography of her life, it's selected for maximum conformity to the Tina-as-abused-soul-queen legend, opening with "Fool In Love"
(". . . you can't understand/ Why he treats you like he does when he's such a good man") and including the otherwise unexceptional "Letter from Tina" - an epistolary condemnation notable solely for its retrospective personal connotations - while ignoringmore worthy material, especially anything that might reflect more kindly upon Ike's genius. …