The Joup Friday Album: Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club

Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club was recorded in 1963 and released in 1985 by R.C.A. Records, who had kept it in a vault for over twenty years. This album took twenty-two years to be released! I’m sure that probably broke a Guinness book world record of some sort. Think about it – how many records went from the actual recording and production to a twenty-two year release date? Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club is a prime contender for that category. Sam Cooke’s name alone circa 1963 sold a ton of records, but Live at the Harlem Square Club was shelved and never released at the height of Cooke’s fame. Why?

In 1963, some soggy, old, snowflake executives at R.C.A. Records thought the recording sounded too raw and gritty. What’s that Gramps? “If we want to get his act to the Copacabana we got to white wash him a bit. We can’t release this record”. The recording was shelved because the executive clowns at R.C.A. had no gumption and felt they could not market Sam Cooke to white people effectively enough with the Live at the Harlem Square Club album. They were wrong, because Cooke needed no image filter; a lot of people liked what they heard from him regardless, and he sold records, case closed. R.C.A. subsequently recorded and produced Cooke in a more restrained performance at the Copacabana Club and it was released almost a year after he was murdered in a justifiable homicide that, to this day, remains a foul play mystery. Sam Cooke Live at the Copacabana is a classy and beautiful performance, but the vibe in that venue was not his bag.

Live at Harlem Square Club is a fun, loose and more natural sounding performance because it paints a sonic picture of Cooke’s roots in Gospel music. Cooke truly sounds like he is a testifying preacher from the south that could relate to downtrodden souls, but he also had pop sensibilities about his vocal style. This is what made his songs hit with such a sweet, soft blow. He made the blues sound pretty, which is not easy to do. His songs tackle a lot of life’s dilemmas: love, fight, love, fight, have a party, get up in the morning and repeat. His soulful but jagged tone speaks to me and reminds me we are all in the same boat, so “don’t fight It, feel it”, with all of its ups and downs you have to feel life to truly live it.

*As a side bar this album is a great record to play if you are entertaining people. I’ve never had a bad experience at a party listening to it unlike “Wheel in the Sky” by Journey.


Tag! Chester


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