Sam Cooke - Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (1985), 6/10

Sam Cooke’s performance at the Harlem Square Club is refreshingly real and moving, stemming from his combination of showmanship and his authentic connection with his audience. It takes a while for Sam to warm up and build this connection but fortunately, the best songs and the more intense moments take place near the end of the performance when emotions are running high for the audience and himself. While the energy builds consistently, the passion is apparent from track two at the latest, making it a consistent effort and one that excels on many different levels. The pinnacle of the record is reached on “Bring It On Home to Me” but extended to the closer “Having a Party” which sees Cooke drawing every last ounce of energy from the audience yet again and finishing off a legendary live performance with tact. The audience has a real connection with Cooke not just because of his on-stage energy, but also due to his roots in gospel that can be felt very explicitly here. Its later release in the eighties after recording in the early sixties is unsurprising but reveals perspectives at the time of its recording; the idea that this would hurt Cooke’s image is revealing in hindsight although the theory was untested. Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 is such a good performance, in fact, it may just be the one that converts outsiders to enjoy soul. While some of these songs are uninventive, the performances are almost objectively more appealing and interesting than their studio-recorded counterparts. This is perhaps where the only weakness of the record lies, in the songwriting behind these tracks. Interpretation leaves very little to be desired and speaks even more favorably for Cooke’s soulful ability to perform charismatically. The repeated use of call and response, for instance, translates to the recording remarkably well mostly because of Cooke’s engaged showmanship. While it suffers musically at times, the performance itself is close to a perfect interpretation and could never be improved upon by another.