Retro Review – One Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963

“The young man you’ve all been waiting for- Mr. Soul!”

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Rod Stewart’s blurb on the back of this vinyl reissue really takes the words out of my mouth in this case so I’ll keep it brief. This is an outstanding live album, among the best I’ve ever heard. An entertainer first, singer second, Cooke transforms himself from his smooth silky delivery in the studio to a raucous, gritty club singer. Listen to this recording of Bring it On Home to Me and then come back to compare to the recording that happened that night at the Harlem Club in Miami. Once you get past his southern preacher-like preamble- where he riffs and teases the crowd as they are just begging him to drop into one of his biggest hits- you can hear how unleashed he seems compared to the studio version of this song.

Many artists attempt to recreate their studio performance when on stage, but not Cooke. As a bandleader he has the instrumentation much more present with him, as a singer he pushes himself further and as a frontman he is reaching right out to the crowd. This album captures energy unlike any live performance I’ve heard on a recording. It might have to do with the nature of the music and the venue- his style doesn’t drown out all noise like a rock concert might, and he’s in a relatively small, intimate club where the crowd is more present. The crowd (and to the same extent, the engineers who captured this performance) is the unsung hero of this album, as you can hear them not only between each song, but swelling to fill in Cooke’s vocal beats with raucous cheering.

In the following year Cooke would be shot dead, and posthumously release his hit protest song A Change is Gonna Come, a song which affected many at the time including in the future with the likes of Leon Bridges. This live album didn’t come out until 1984, 20 years after Cooke’s death, adding on to the legacy that continued to accrue posthumously. Turn this album up louder than you normally would for 60’s soul, you need to feel like you’re there.