Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 22

sam cooke

Sam Cooke – Live At The Harlem Square Club (1963)

I’m a miserable sod by nature, and already in this list I’ve written about albums made by manic depressives and artists for whom nervous breakdowns were merely an occupational hazard. Xavier Dwyer mentioned in his recent article that he doesn’t like writing about music, and can barely even tolerate talking about it much anymore, and I understand where he is coming from in many ways; we all too often over-intellectualise music as a medium, sit and scrutinize lyric sheets and chord sequences, argue about what statement the artist is trying to make and shake our heads as we wonder if Thom Yorke really thinks the MI5 are after him. What is forgotten for the most part amongst all this bluster and theorising, is that a lot of the time, music is meant to be enjoyed. Sometimes there doesn’t need to be a statement or a introspective undercurrent. Sometimes you don’t want to think, you just want to press play and enjoy it. I defy anybody to find a more infectiously enjoyable album than this one.

Sam Cooke is one of those rare artists who, although you might not know anything about him, you’ll know loads of his songs without even knowing who sings them. On any Saturday night, in any disco where the crowd is generally aged mid thirties-upwards, you are guaranteed to hear Cupid, Chain Gang and Twistin’ The Night Away. And everyone will be dancing. It is music that one as to be either in a coma or a goth to resist reacting to. It’s a live album, obviously (don’t tell me I can’t include live albums, it’s my list, and I’m going to bowl an even bigger off-spinner in a little while) and it’s difficult to recall a recorded performance where the frontman is obviously so completely in control of the crowd. He is absolutely shredding the stage, and his vocals are beyond compare; to these ears Cooke is the greatest singer to have ever lived. You can tell that there is not a single person in the crowd sitting down, they’re all up and jiving, the girls have grabbed their boys and they’re slinging themselves all over the shop. His band are tighter than a camel’s arse in a sandstorm and as with that other great live album of the early-soul age, James Brown Live At The Apollo, the bits in between the songs where he whips the punters into a frenzy with his vamping and scatting, are nearly as good as the songs themselves.

Sam Cooke had been heavily involved in the civil rights movement in America in the late fifties and early sixties and had he not have died in 1964 (apparently shot by a motel landlady while his pants were round his ankles) you wonder how much more influence he could have had on the political stage in and in other fields beyond music. The whole world would have listened to every word he said, because this was soul, charisma, and magnetism on the most supernatural level. They simply do not make pop stars like Sam Cooke anymore.

Best Tracks: Chain Gang, Twistin’ The Night Away, Bring It On Home To Me

Best Moment: In For Sentimental Reasons, where he leads the adoring crowd in a sing-along “I think of you every morning, and dream of you every night. EVERYBODY!!!”

Like this? Try: NBC TV Special by Elvis Presley, 1968

And, I know this track is not on the album, but just take three minutes of your life to appreciate what a great singer this man was.


profile b and wAllen Miles is 31 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 20 month-old daughter who is into The Ramones. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of 18 Days, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written by someone from Hull. It is available here.


2 thoughts on “Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 22

  1. SamsNeph says:

    Very astute assessment of a classic, live album if I must say so myself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts of “Harlem Square”–your sentiments have the power to make a fan out of someone who wasn’t previously aware of this legendary artist 😉

    Erik Greene
    Author, Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family’s Perspective

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