1001 Albums You Must Hear (and Blog about) Before You Die

My attempt to blog all of the entries from the book 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die

962. Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 – Sam Cooke


Listent to this version: Tracks 88-96

Background: Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 was recorded  at the aforementioned club (located in Miami, Fl) in January of that year. At the time the album was shelved, because it was too raw and didn’t present Cooke in the way the record company wanted to show him. The album was finally released in 1985 to nearly universal acclaim.

I’m gonna do things a little different here:

What a difficult album this one has been. It started out normal. I found the album on Rdio, and quickly glanced at the Allmusic review at the bottom of the page (something I usually don’t do). The review said it is probably the best “live Soul album” ever released. “Sweet”, I thought. I love Sam Cooke and this is going to be a great time. So I go to listen to it in my car (my go to for this project) and it sounded awful. The recording sounded like somebody put one microphone by the drummer’s symbols and pressed record. Sam’s vocal performance (what I could hear of it at least) was great, but it was almost completely drowned out by these insanely loud symbols. Apparently, there was some guitar and horns buried in there somewhere too. It was one of the worst live albums I’ve ever heard. I listened to it again on the way to work, just to make sure I wasn’t in a bad mood. Nope still sounded awful. Great I thought, I get to write about how awful a Sam Cooke album is and wonder how everybody else seems to think it’s great.

Thankfully, while reading up on the album on Wikipedia I saw that there were a couple of other versions with different mixes. I found one of the on Rdio (tracks 88-96 on the Cooke anthology The Man Who Invented Soul), and guess what? It’s as amazing as it’s was hyped to be. I love it! Sam’s vocals are smooth where they should be  and raw when the excitement builds. I can hear the whole band and every instrument. They sound tight and the horns are amazing.  And the best parts are when the audience sings along such as on “It’s All Right/ For Sentimental Reasons.” Other highlights include “Twistin the Night Away” with it’s awesome sax solos, “Bring it on Home to Me” and the sing along of the final track in “Having a Party”.

This really shows the difficulty of a project like this. A lot of these albums have multiple versions with different mixes and hugely varying quality. The first version was released by RCA and so it should be good, but who knows maybe they handed off their digitization to some intern that didn’t know what he was doing, and the whole album was ruined. If I would have given up on this one, I would have missed the opportunity to appreciate a great live album. Even more, what I would have missed what now in my opinion is probably the best live soul album ever released. That being said, I still want to hear the original version of the album as that mix is supposed show the amazing vibe Cooke had with the audience on that night.

Rating (Out of 5): 5

Amazon Review (Out of 5):4.5

Is this my first time hearing this album? Yes (32/40)

Percentage of Albums that are new to me: 80%


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