1001 Albums: Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963

# 38


Artist: Sam Cooke

Album: Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963

Year: 1963

Length: 37:29

Genre: RnB Soul / Live



“Baby when the band is playin’
And that solid beat
Make you wanna move, make you wanna groove
Make you wanna pat your feet
Don’t fight it, don’t fight it, feel it.”


I was a little lonely for the past few days. Sandra had gone up to see her best friend in Toronto, leaving me alone with no one to annoy or bug. I mean sure I can annoy my parents, but it’s just not the same, you know? I figured I’d find ways to entertain myself while she was gone, write, read, maybe engage in conversation with other people. Lasted a day before I felt the need to bother her. With all the persistence I usually have, I downloaded about thirty pictures of Ham and Cheese sandwiches and posted every single one onto her timeline on Facebook.


mmmm… delicious.

I just wanted to share these delicious sandwiches with her, but the results were exactly what you’d expect. She was both laughing and just in utter astonishment at the ridiculousness of it all. That seems to be the emotion she has the most with me. Shaking her head in disbelief at something I’ve done, yet still finding it funny. Laughing in disbelief is what I’m looking for here. I keep her on her toes, she never knows what I’m going to do next. I know one day I might take it too far, but until then I’m going to enjoy it as much as possible.

As fun as it was, I needed to find ways to keep myself occupied and what better way than to keep listening to these albums? I mean, it’s not like I wasn’t going to to begin with, but at least it would keep me busy so I wouldn’t do something stupid again. Possibly…

I’m happy I did because I got to experience what I now consider my favourite album off the list so far (yeah, was wondering when that would change. What was the last album I said that on? Kenya? Yikes…). No joke, I fucking loved this album, every second and minute of it I was hooked. This is not what I thought would happen before going into it. In all honesty, I thought this was another live jazz album (yeah, yeah, I know it isn’t jazz at all, excuse my ignorance) and was already preparing myself for what would be thirty minutes of trying to find something to say that at least made it look like I sort of knew what I was talking about (which, let’s face it, rarely happens).

This was not the case, the complete opposite actually. My expectations took a complete 180 and completely blew me away. This album was everything a live album should be. It was raw, energized and heated. Sam Cooke delivers one of the greatest performances I have ever heard in my life. He doesn’t stop for one moment, going from one song to the next, barely taking a moment to catch his breath in between them. He exudes so much infectious energy, you can actually hear the crowd getting riled up from his performance and they can barely contain themselves. You know they’re going crazy once he busts into his twisting song “Twistin’ the Night Away”, reaching a climax that was so amazingly built up from his slower love medley, “It’s All Right/ For Sentimental Reasons”, right before.

That’s the funny thing. Even when he slows it down, it still feels energized. I can’t explain it, but throughout his whole medley, I felt out of breath even though it wasn’t a fast song at all. Somehow it was pumping me up and I felt every fibre of my body feeling it and ready to explode. It’s a little hard to explain this type of energy, but I’ll do my best. When I say energized I don’t mean in the same way that, say, speed metal is energized, fast and hyper, but in the sense that he puts his all into his performance. He doesn’t waste an ounce of his own power and keeps the turbines running on high even on a soulful song. It’s a level of intensity that he reaches that doesn’t require speed, but emotion and feeling. The same thing occurs when you’re watching a play and both actors are doing a heavily tense, dramatic moment. Nothing can be happening, but you in the audience can feel it and feel tense with them. The actors could just be standing there and looking at each other, but if they’re giving all their energy to the moment then you feel it. A low energy actor can take away all that tension and this applies to live music shows as well. There’s nothing worse than watching a band perform and they’re performing with such low energy. You can feel it and it really brings you down and takes away from the performance and the experience of watching it. Obviously, there’s exceptions (Bob Dylan is able to just sit there, chilled and still keep you engaged), but they’re really exceptions to the rule and few and far between. Sam Cooke delivers on the energy levels. I wouldn’t be surprised if he just passed out, right off stage, after this performance.

This is one high quality album, and I don’t mean in sound recording, but in performance. This has been widely considered to be one of the best live albums ever, and upon listening to it I can definitely see why. Can you believe this was almost never released? Yeah, the record label was afraid this album would tarnish his reputation… somehow. He was making a transition from gospel and soul into pop, this was one of his last ventures of his soul days and was predominantly enjoyed by black people (which I guess the label had a problem with because… of course they did it was 1963, white people wouldn’t like them black people music). Honestly, if this was how it was, I would choose to hang with the black crowd any day of the week. You can hear it on this record, they know how to fucking party. They know how to just let loose and enjoy themselves. There’s really a special feeling you get when you hear the whole crowd singing along with Sam Cooke. There’s no worries or cares, just a ton of people having the time of their lives. That’s everything you want for a concert and how it should be.

I’ve been to quite a few concerts that have had this feeling. It feels amazing to let out some stress by dancing and singing and getting pummeled in a mosh pit. I love going to concerts for this particular reason, I find it very therapeutic and it allows me to blow off some of that unnecessary steam I’ve been holding in. I always get excited when I’m on my way to a concert because I know for about four hours I’m going to be able to not be worried, not let anxiety get the best of me. I don’t have to think about my responsibilities, worries and pressures. You can just check your brain at the door and go buck wild. This is your moment, yours to just live and enjoy, even if it’s for a limited time. I always feel amazing leaving concerts because I finally feel what it’s like to just be happy. Pure happiness in all it’s glory. It truly is an amazing feeling. And as much as I can get this from all the shows I see, I feel it will never compare to how Sam Cooke’s show was back in 1963. If this recording says anything is that, and remember this does come down to personal taste and you might disagree due to many factors, this is debateably one of the greatest live shows to ever occur. If you disagree with that, at least you can’t deny that this is definitely one of the greatest performances to ever occur.

Damn it, Sam Cooke, where have you been all my life?

Song of Choice: Feel It



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