Summer Classics: Sam Cooke, Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963.

My soundtrack for the slow summer days is often old blues or soul records. Not that I feel particularly bummed out or blue at the moment, but artists like Son House and Robert Johnson wrote timeless songs that always seem appropriate. Listening to the blues makes me think of past summer days spent walking in the woods or traipsing down to the river to go fishing. While listening to soul reminds me of summer picnics with oldies radio cranked up to ten. Each seem perfect, whether blasting out of a boombox, a phonograph, or an mp3 player. Right now I am savoring Son House's Complete Library of Congress Sessions, but I could as easily be sampling John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom. There are so many blues records that seem appropriate for a hot summer day. Soul records are also great, easy summer listening. Sam Cooke and Otis Redding are not far from my turntable in summer months.

Which is why I return again and again to classics like Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Club, 1963 -- a rare live record that captures Cooke at the top of his game in the way his other sides never could have. In this amazing performance, he seems more at home, more free, and far less of a studio creation. He is able to transcend the pop trappings of his records, creating a dynamic show that brings to mind the albums that Otis Redding was able to make, or, perhaps, the spirit of Jackie Wilson live. This performance is remarkably fresh, and it always brings a smile to my face. It is one of the greatest live albums of all time, but it is also the perfect record for a summer day. The lyrics don't seem as innocent as they do on the radio, but they transcend time and place, calling to mind a summer afternoon anywhere. Shifting from a smoky club to an outside setting, the listener can imagine being in either place. Grilling up some comfort foods, kicking back in a chair, grabbing a coke or a beer, drifting into past and future summers to the familiar refrain of such choice tunes as "Having A Party" -- "We're having a party/dancing to the music played by the DJ/on the radio/the cokes are in the icebox/the popcorn's on the table/me and my baby/we're out here on the floor."


Happy thoughts and a great summer record. You can't ask for much more.


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