Acclaimed Albums – Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963 by Sam Cooke

Like I mentioned with the switch over to the Top 1000 list, there are a number of older albums that I listened to as part of a previous blog. This was back in 2009 … and I think my views on music have changed somewhat. Or maybe not, but hey it’s good to keep crossing these off so for these three weeks will be playing a game of catch-up.

List item: Listen to the 1000 Most Acclaimed Albums
Progress: 304/1000
Title: Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963
Artist: Sam Cooke
Year: 1985

Yes ladies and gentlemen this is another live album that I am reviewing. When I saw that this was another in a long list of live albums the question did dawn as to why there are so many essential ones during this time. After all, it is not as if artists don’t produce live albums anymore. While I have some understanding as to why live jazz albums appear on this list, due to the largely improvisational nature of their craft, but those of other genres just didn’t make sense to me.

Then the idea dawned on me as I began to listen to Live At Harlem Square Club. Maybe it is because in their studio recordings the artists just as Sam Cooke, as well as others like Sarah Vaughan, they become so restrained by the needs to sell records to the masses that so many compromises that it is in these live albums that some artists finally reach their full creative potential and produce their best work. So, the album today is Live At Harlem Square Club by Sam Cooke, and with this is the first true soul album to appear on the 1001 list.

If there is one thing that needs to be said about Sam Cooke it is that this guy had charisma by the shed-load. If the recording is to be believed, as it should be, then he had this audience feeding out of the palm of his hand. When he says to scream and shout by Jove do they scream and shout. When he says twist you just know that the entire crowd is there in front of the stage twisting away. The second thing that is needed to be said is that he is able to make one hell of a show. He has single-handedly raised the bar for all the albums on this list.

With his soulful voice and his electric performances Sam Cooke has made sure that Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You didn’t hold the title of ‘Best Album So Far’ for anything more than a day. But what is it makes Live At Harlem Square Club the best album on the list so far? So far this is the only album that is without a duff track. ‘Chain Gang’ makes you want to get up and do dance like Johnny Bravo whilst ‘Cupid’ is just one of those immortal songs that really does mean as much nowadays as it did back then.

Timelessness in an album is pretty much a rarity since every album has a telltale sign of the times whether it be a musical style, a particularly used instrument or cultural references that have become lost in the quagmire of a shared consciousness, yet this doesn’t have any of this. A factor to this may be that we recently had a sixties musical resurge. This has taken the forms of Amy Winehouse, Christina Aguilera’s Back To Basics and Duffy, who tries and fails to replicate the wondrous Dusty Springfield, so an album like this doesn’t sound too alien. However, these all tend to have a better production value compared with those of the sixties, including Live At Harlem Square Club. So why doesn’t this factor date this album? Pure and simple, it’s a live album.

It’s production values are pretty much the same as those of Bjork’s Live Box or Madonna’s attempts that proved she couldn’t sing live. Thus Sam Cooke, likely through sheer accident has given an album of class, genius and timelessness that all artists dream of

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