It’s getting cold in the city these days, and as the early afternoon winds down and the light begins to fade, I find myself reaching back for music that slowly winds down the hours. There’s nothing quite like a masterful vocalist that’s singing a melancholy song. Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Ella Fitzgerald…the list could go on and on, but one song that’s really been hitting me lately is a standard by Sam Cooke called “Fool’s Paradise” off his classic album Night Beat.
There are a lot of great songs to play when it’s getting late, but “Fool’s Paradise” seems to eternally exist at three in the morning. Drums and guitar keep time with the precision of a pocket watch, while a weathered piano flits aimlessly, far away in the background. Even the age of the 1963 recording helps the mood sink in—quiet layers of static make the record sound like it’s playing through a gramophone while your grandparents dance. Everything contributes to a wonderfully sparse atmosphere, jazzy and welcoming and soulful and lonely all at the same time.
But the song’s real MVP is Cooke. While the backing instrumentation creates a blurry, woozy sensation, his vocals are pushed sharply to the front (as they should be), commanding attention from the very first note. Listen to the way he leans into the “all” and the “fool” of the chorus, emphasizing the romance of a late night even as he recognizes that he’s going to pay for it down the line. And I guess that’s true; we’re all going to face the effects of our youthful arrogance in due time. But in the few minutes while this song’s playing, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
Play this song: After “drinking and gambling, staying out all night, living in a fool’s paradise.”