Working at a Miami club in 1963 with a merged band that included guitarist Cliff White and drummer Albert "June" Gardner from Cooke's regular touring outfit and saxophonist King Curtis and his band, Sam Cooke delivered one of the most fiery and emotionally direct live soul performances ever recorded. Each song burns with an insistent, urgent feel, and although Cooke practically defines melisma on his single releases, here he reaches past that into a deeper territory that finds him almost literally shoving and pushing each song forward with shouts, asides, and spoken interactions with the audience, which is as big a part of his set as any member of the band. "Chain Gang" is stripped down to a raw nerve, "Twistin' the Night Away" explodes out of the gate like a runaway rocket, and Curtis' sax breaks on "Somebody Have Mercy" make it sound like the saxophone was invented for this one song alone. Throughout Cooke's voice is a raspy laser.
Although recorded at the Harlem Square Club in Miami in 1963 and always intended as an LP, RCA didn't release it as an album until 1985. The set was remixed from the original first generation three-track tape for 2000's The Man Who Invented Soul box, and while the music (and Cooke's vocals in particular) sounded much cleaner, much of the crowd noise from the 1985 mixes was toned down, robbing the recording of some of its claustrophobic, frenzied power. The mix used for One Night Stand! Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club as released by RCA/Legacy in 2005 seems to more or less split the difference, but the crucial key is and always was Cooke's vocals, and while he was a marvelously smooth, versatile, and urbane singer on his official pop recordings, here he exploded into one of the finest sets of raw secular gospel ever captured on tape. It is essential listening in any version.