It’s a privilege to be able to spin this somewhat notorious Sam Cooke live album 'One Night Stand: Live At Harlem Square'. Anyone who’s seen the Netflix doc ‘ReMastered: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke’ might recall it being discussed.
Even though the performance was recorded on January 12th, 1963 while Sam was on tour, his record company at the time RCA Victor viewed the record as too gritty and raw and feared it might damage Sam’s pop image. So it was kept in their archives till 1985.
The Harlem Square was a small downtown nightspot in Miami’s historically African-American neighborhood of Overtown and it was packed with his most devoted fans from his days singing gospel. RCA found the record to be “too black” for a lack of better words - describing the album as too loud, raw and raucous. This is covered in the documentary.
In 1985, label executive Gregg Geller discovered the tapes and took action to get the album released that year. In 2013 he said “Sam was what we’ve come to call a crossover artist. He crossed over from gospel to pop, which was controversial enough in its day. But once he became a pop artist, he had a certain mainstream image to protect. The fact is, when he was out on the road, he was playing to a predominantly, almost exclusively black audience. And he was doing a different kind of show - much more down home, down-to-earth, gut-bucket kind of show than what he would do for his pop audience.”
Thankfully One Night Stand: Live At Harlem Square has gained major adoration since 1985, often ranked as one of the best live albums of all time. Sam plays with King Curtis, Clifton White and Cornell Dupree to name a few. The synchronicity between the performer and his crew and the enlivened Miami audience is natural and uninhibited all at once, as Cooke’s candour shines with each phrasing he sings and interjection he utters. The show hits its almighty climax when Cooke spills his guts out over an emotionally intense, love-fest trilogy of regret, longing, and commitment with “Somebody Have Mercy,” “Bring It on Home” and “Nothing Can Change This Love".
There's a new film out at the moment on Amazon Prime that also touches on this moment in time. One Night In Miami is a film about a fictionalized meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke in February 1964. Without giving much away, it showcases Malcolm X's pressure on Sam to stop releasing silly love songs and shift his focus to writing songs that has social commentary on the Black struggle. Inspired by Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind", Sam wrote and released "A Change Is Gonna Come" that spring, just 9 months before he was murdered.
Sam was a powerhouse in the industry, he achieved career milestones that no other black artist at the time could even dream of. While Elvis or Sinatra often get touted as these industry legends who were peerless, Sam was equally as successful and made waves when many label execs would have preferred that he not.
"It's been a long, a long time coming but I know a change is gonna come. Oh yes it will." - Sam Cooke, A Change Is Gonna Come
Yes it will.