These are the very darkest of American times, but they’ve never been without the occasional reminder of the greatness of the American spirit when it’s travelling on the right path. On this bleak Fourth of Ju-LIES weekend, allow us to suggest a topical remedy in the form of Sam Cooke’s Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1963, embedded here for your immediate gratification. Two things (among many more) are true about this record:
1. It is the greatest live record, of any artist or genre, ever made.
2. It is infectious and rambunctious and redolent of not just the American spirit, but the spirit of humanity at its very best. In this way, it is essentially the sound of the American promise.
And like America itself, it almost didn’t come to pass. After being recorded by Cooke’s label on an unusually balmy night in January 1963, “RCA found the results too loud, raw and raucous — not the Cooke the label was trying to break as an international pop star — and shelved the recordings for over two decades.” When you listen, you can hear perfectly what might have scared the suits. Live At The Harlem Square is the sound of soulful ecstasy exploding seemingly from every porous being and surface in the club, jumping the third rail out of your speakers and into your home. Live At The Harlem Square, in its timelessness, feels alive still. It’s a bomb, bursting in air.