One Night Stand (Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963) // Sam Cooke

The album cover for Sam Cooke's One Night Stand

So what do you say let’s all get together and welcome him to the stand with a great big hand!

Oh, man, he just has them in the palm of his hand.

From the moment Sam Cooke is introduced to the crowd at the Harlem Square Club, it’s clear that he’s got it. He has that magnetic charisma, that joyful exuberance, that characteristic that you just need if you’re going to carry a live album.

Live albums are tough. They’re so easy to make — record a show and you’re ready to go. But it’s hard to predict when the magic will actually be there. At the Harlem Square Club in 1963, it was there in force.

The crowd loves him. When he talks to them, they scream in excitement. And he loves them, drawing a ridiculous amount of energy from their mere presence. He’s not on stage, going through the motions — he’s playing to the crowd, and it works perfectly for him. Cooke calls out to the audience frequently, and they are frequently willing to participate in the show and oblige his musical requests.

Cooke’s voice is normally effortlessly good, but here, he’s really giving it his all. Because of this, One Night Stand has some of the best versions of these songs — “Chain Gang” has a distinct freshness to it, an enthusiasm that is totally removed by the song’s studio version.

His band is terrific, too, keeping up with Cooke throughout his fervor. The saxophone solo on “Twistin’ The Night Away,” the bass on “It’s All Right / For Sentimental Reasons,” the sheer persistence of the drums. Cooke is an incredible singer, no doubt about that. But the band deserves a special honor for the way they’re able to read Cooke’s emotions and rapidly follow his continuously shifting instructions. A photo of Sam Cooke smoking into his microphoneThey’re an exemplary band, and I’d like to give acknowledgment to Cornell Dupree, Albert Gardner, Tate Houston, Jimmy Lewis, Curtis Ousley, George Stubbs, and Clifton White. Without them, One Night Stand wouldn’t have the same truth and life that so effortlessly reflects the world at the time.

It’s funny that this album wasn’t released for twenty years to preserve Cooke’s pop image. The grittiness of the album is its most commendable trait, presenting a very real slice of the sixties that few other albums are able to.