Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 is the second live album by the American singer-songwriter Sam Cooke. The album was released in June 1985 in the United States by RCA Records. Initially recorded on January 12, 1963, to be released as a live album entitled One Night Stand, the concert at Miami’s Harlem Square Club was not released until 1985. RCA Victor, at the time, viewed the album as too gritty and raw and possibly damaging to his pop image, and quietly kept the recordings in their archive.
The album is generally considered among the best live albums by contemporary music critics, and has been ranked in “best-of” music lists, including on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Three mixes of the record exist: the 1985 issue, a version included on the 2000 box set The Man Who Invented Soul, and a 2005 remaster from RCA.
In 1962, RCA Victor decided it was time for Cooke to record a live album, and a warm January night at the Harlem Square Club in Miami was picked to record. The Harlem Square Club was a small downtown nightspot in Miami’s historically African-American neighborhood of Overtown, and was packed with the singer’s most devoted fans from his days singing gospel. RCA found the results too loud, raw and raucous – not the Cooke the label was trying to break as an international pop star – and shelved the recordings for over two decades
“Feel It” – 3:46
“Chain Gang” – 3:11
“Cupid” – 2:46
“Medley: It’s All Right/For Sentimental Reasons” (Cooke/Deke Watson, William Best) – 5:11
“Twistin’ the Night Away” – 4:19
“Somebody Have Mercy” – 4:45
“Bring It on Home to Me” – 5:37
“Nothing Can Change This Love” – 3:45
“Having a Party” – 4:09
Review: Not only is this one of the greatest live soul albums ever released, it also reveals a rougher, rawer, and more immediate side to Sam Cooke that his singles only hinted at, good as they were. Working with a merged band that included guitarist Cliff White and drummer Albert “June” Gardner from Cooke’s regular touring outfit and saxophonist King Curtis and his band, Cooke brings a gospel fervor to these whirlwind versions, which are fiery, emotionally direct, and hit with uncommon power. Every track burns with an insistent, urgent feel, and although Cooke practically defines melisma on his single releases, here he reaches past that into deeper territory that finds him almost literally shoving and pushing each song forward with shouts, asides, and spoken interactions with the audience, which becomes as much a part of this set as any bandmember. “Chain Gang” is stripped down to a raw nerve, “Twistin’ the Night Away” explodes out of the gate like a runaway rocket, and Curtis’ sax breaks on “Somebody Have Mercy” make it sound like the saxophone was invented for this one song alone. Throughout Cooke’s voice is a raspy laser that makes it obvious what Rod Stewart picked up from this recording, and it is impossible not to hear Cooke’s voice looming behind Stewart’s once you’ve heard this amazing live set. Although recorded January 12, 1963, at the Harlem Square Club in Miami in 1963, RCA didn’t release it as an album until 1985. The set was remixed from the original first generation three-track tape for 2000’s The Man Who Invented Soul box, and while the music (and Cooke’s vocals in particular) sounded much cleaner, much of the crowd noise from the 1985 mixes was toned down, robbing the recording of some of its claustrophobic, frenzied power. The mix used here seems to more or less split the difference, but the crucial key is and was always Cooke’s vocals, and while he was a marvelously smooth, versatile, and urbane singer on his official pop recordings, here he explodes into one of the finest sets of raw secular gospel ever captured on tape. It is essential listening in any version. – Steve Leggett
Schill Score: 8.25/10
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