The greatest live album ever produced. My favorite solo performer of all time. Mr. Soul. There is no album that can comparably capture the frenetic energy between singer, band, crowd and room. Sam Cooke is a vocal magician who has the ability to cast a hypnotizing spell on his audience, but instead of lulling your senses and turning you into a hazy supplicant…Sam draws out your inner fire and kinetic curiosity. There’s a fine line and a duplicitous relationship between love and lust. We’re taught to strive for and maintain one while discouraging the other, but I say there is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of both in life. Unfortunately, they do not mix well. However, as Sam says, “Don’t Fight It. Feel It.”
I’ve loved Soul music since I can remember hearing it. My mom and dad had so many Motown compilations and Otis Redding records. You will see some of these in the collection. However, it wasn’t until I arrived at the University of South Carolina that I really started to appreciate it. The State dance of SC is called the Carolina Shag, which is basically a sped up swing dance. It was cultivated by whites sitting in balconies of black clubs in the segregation era. They appropriated it as a dance to “Beach Music,” which to me is just blue eyed soul or some derivative of that. Everyone in college could dance it, well, everyone but me. My second year of college, I lived on the Sigma Chi fraternity hall and lived with a guy from Orangeburg, SC, a very small town between Columbia and Charleston. He had excellent taste in oldies music and he could dance. This was 1998 but it was not uncommon to pregame to Widespread Panic interspersed with Frankie Lymon (so much “Goody Goody” and “Baby Baby”) or Sam Cooke. And dance. This would be an extreme oddity in New Orleans. This is how I got extremely familiar with Sam Cooke and also noticed the raw, powerful effect his music had on people. Sam Cooke and alcohol is a potent mix. Live was an early record purchase, and I remember so many great late nights blasting it in my condo at 760 Magazine St. (I lived here from around 2008-2017, when I met your mother).
The album starts with an iconic intro where you get a sense of what’s to come from the audience’s response, when Sam asks “How you doing out there?” Then immediately into “Feel It (Don’t Fight It)” where Cooke sets the tone for the amplified experience to come. At times, you can tell the band is really struggling to keep up with Sam (who’s, dare I say, cooking. HEY OHH. Dad joke limit met). I can imagine being in that small Miami club and feeling the push and pull between the audience and Cooke. It’s on “Twisitin the Night Away” that I feel Sam just knocks the roof off the place, see the “take the handkerchief around” section of the track. Originally, the album was canned because the crowd was simply too raucous (it would later be re-mixed and mastered to work for commercial use). The magician had done his work. If I had one complaint, it would be that Sam didn’t sing my favorite song of his, “A Change is Gonna Come.” I’ll get more into his life and other works on another album.
I hope you will enjoy Sam Cooke’s music as much as I have, but if a boy ever asks you to come over and listen to this record…get the hell out fast!!! I kid, I kid….for sentimental reasons.
Favorite Tracks: All. Drop the needle. Let it skate.
Pressing: RCA 88697 33790 1 RP – 2008