One Night Stand!

The music begins before he arrives. There are horns and hollers and hand claps. Then comes the MC: "Right now, ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to introduce the star of our show, the young man you've all been waiting for, Mister Soul! So, what d'you say? Let's all get together and welcome him to the stage with a great, big hand! How 'bout it?! How 'bout it?!"

And then he comes on and the crowd goes mad and he gives some instruction: "Don't fight it, we're gonna feel it. Don't fight it, we're gonna feel it. Alright?"

"How you doin' out there?"

Sam Cooke, Mister Soul, has to ask three times before he receives the answer he is looking for, a resounding howl. The band moves at a breakneck pace—any faster, harder, or more dangerous and this would be punk rock—through "Feel It," "Chain Gang," and "Cupid," before Cooke asks, "Are we all in favor to get romantic?" The audience responds appropriately, and the band offers a painfully intense performance of "It's Alright" which slides right into "For Sentimental Reasons."

This is not the same Sam Cooke I've known and loved, the sweet, smooth, Sunday morning Sam Cooke. This is a Saturday night Sam Cooke. This version of the man exhibits a savage intensity that screams ragged-edged sexuality, blood, sweat, and soul. In his liner notes, Peter Guralnick gets it right:

Perfect musicality is sacrificed to a less-controlled sensibility, in which the voice is frayed but the emotion true…. All pretense of subtlety is lost, the mask of the genial host is abandoned for the chuckle of complicity, and there is something irremediably nasty in it all, something evil, something soul-stirring, something beautiful.

So, this is Sam Cooke. A sinister rendition of "Bring It on Home to Me" tells everything you need to know, and you know that he's gonna love the hell out of that woman when she does come home. You can't help but sing along, throwing one arm into the air, while the other comes crashing down to your side, and you wonder what it was like to have been there on that Saturday night, January 12, 1963, in the crowd, howling along.

The packaging of this Sony/Legacy reissue is a treat, meant to resemble the original release, but with some of the best liner notes I've ever had the pleasure of reading. (I now want to search out Guralnick's Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke to learn even more.) Though clean and quiet, the sound here is just okay—it lacks the three-dimensional magic of my favorite recordings—but it really doesn't matter. A performance this right and raw can't be destroyed.

tris mccall's picture

funny, i have always called this the first punk rock album. and still one of the best. everything sam cooke ever recorded is great -- like van the man, even his garbage is great. but you don't know sam cooke until you hear this. this version of chain gang is best described as "lethal".

deckeda's picture

MF reviewed this same title recently, and mentioned the original 1985 release, which he preferred. I want this recording too but am not sure I want to wait until the original can be found ...