Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don't Fight The Feeling

Editor's note: I really meant for The Red Skull to be up and running at 100% with a few more writers by this point. In case you don't read Beneath The Underdog, my personal blog, you might not know that my girlfriend, Amanda, was hit by a car two weeks ago. She's okay, but I've been distracted from writing and making this blog a little more presentable. I'm writing this post before I head off to the beach for the weekend, but look forward to more new content, things like link bars, writer information, and hopefully more writers. If you feel that you'd like to write for the Red Skull, send an email to

Live albums are tricky propositions. The traditional rock live albums are drunken retreads through the hits. There are notable exceptions, Live at Leeds, Band Of Gypsys, The Horrible Truth About Burma to name a few.

The live soul record is an entirely different beast. There are three and a half live Otis Redding albums (the half being the split LP Live At Monterrey which he shares with Jimi Hendrix). Each of these are revelations, pure soul sweat flying off of who was already the grittiest soulman of the sixties.

There's revelations, and then there's REVELATIONS. In my opinion, Sam Cooke had the greatest voice I've ever heard. Something so perfect, without pretensions standing in the way of understanding the man who's singing. At the same time conversational, gritty, and smooth. Sam Cooke was stuck in the late fifties and early sixties, though. In that pre-Motown era where soul singers were often pitted against lilly white choral arrangements, syurpy strings, and sub par material. The early singles tower over the albums they promoted, while Cooke's voice never falters, he's bogged down by poor material. Towards the end of Cooke's life and career, he fought for and won his autonomy. In charge of his master tapes, the material he performs and releases, and who plays on his records.

Only three records came out of this period of new found freedom. Night Beat, Ain't That Good News, and Live At The Harlem Square Club. Here is where the revelation lies, recorded in a small club with a vociferous audience, Cooke gets loose and dirty. The audience and Cooke feed off of each other's building energy. Cooke is like a preacher with a newly constituted religion, spreading the gospel of dancing. Whipping everyone into a frenzy. Cooke lets go of the vocal control typical of his studio recordings in a screaming, voice cracking blaze of glory.

Throughout the performance, Cooke invents dances, (prompting the audience to "spin their hankerchiefs 'round"), laughs and jokes with the audience. The band is atypically tight, with perfect timing and anticipation of Cooke's every move. Unfortunately, this is the only recording of this sort from Cooke. His other live LP, Live at The Copa, is a mostly milquetoast affair, targeted right at the audience that was devouring the day's crooner mediocora. Here on Harlem Square Cooke is tipping his hand towards the direction he planned on taking. Unfortunately, Cooke was murdered the next year. Thinking of the material Cooke would have made during soul's late sixties early seventies Renaissance really breaks your heart. How would Cooke have replied to What's Going On and Music Of My Mind? With that depressing thought, I'll turn this record back on, and not fight the feeling.


Cangrejero said...

I've only purchased live records as a means to round out the collection of a band I really really like. There are a few hidden gems out there, however, which stand out. This looks like a great one.

Toothpaste Jones said...

They're normally pretty dissapointing, Led Zeppelin's BBC Sessions is pretty fucking great, though. A tad bit repetitive, but worth it. Come to think of it, most of the BBC Sessions albums I've heard or owned have all been pretty great, The Who one being the lone exception, it's too heavy on their weak early covers.

Other great live albums... James Brown Live At The Apollo, Bob Dylan- Live 1975 Rolling Thunder Review...