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Three great live musical performances on TV: Sam Cooke, the Animals, the Yardbirds

Friday 1/26/24

A round-up here of three great clips of live performances; one from the early rock and soul era, another from the days of the so-called British Invasion, and a third from when sonic possibilities seemed to be changing by the month.

First we have my guy Sam Cooke singing "You Send Me" on The Ed Sullivan Show. "You Send Me" comes up a lot in my Sam Cooke book--it's a sort of thematic thrust, that idea of being sent, as if on a mission, or out into the world, or both. An idea that's developed is that of Cooke as a self-sender. "A Change Is Gonna Come" is his most important song, but "You Send Me" is his key song, both a beginning--and a perpetually renewed beginning--and a philosophy of living.

It's such a cool phrase, too, and entirely of Cooke's making: Instead of, say, "You really thrill me," it's "You send me." To where and to what? A good song causes us to ask questions about ourselves and life. Among other things. In the asking are answers. Questions lead us down roads of discovery.

I love on the Harlem Square album that "You Send Me" is so altered as to have become a part of life, something that can't--or at least isn't--even noted in the track listing.

This Ed Sullivan performance was cut off, because the program ran out of time, so the host brought Cooke back the following week and he did the number in full.

But there is something about this first go-round, truncated or not. Cooke could do in a minute what others couldn't in a career--or within the space of one of his elongated words. A "whoah," even.

Here's another performance from The Ed Sullivan Show, this one featuring the Animals seven years later. It's an outstanding--and impassioned--rendition of "House of the Rising Sun." Listen to how charged-up singer Eric Burdon is. He didn't normally sing the song as he does here near the end, which he sets up with that somewhat off-mic, "Oh baby!"

I'm reminded of Janis Joplin at Monterey during her performance with Big Brother and the Holding Company of "Ball and Chain," when she says--in effect, warns us to get ready--that she's "comin' around for the last time." Burdon really lays into that vocal that follows.

Ever since I first saw this clip as a teenager, I've gotten a kick at how he claps at the end, like he's a member of the audience, too. His eyes say a lot throughout as well. Meanwhile guitarist Hilton Valentine, with his eyes closed as he plays those arpeggios, is in his own world.

Then we have the Yardbirds performing "The Train Kept A-Rollin'" and "Shapes of Things" on June 27, 1966, in France, with new member Jimmy Page on bass, and Jeff Beck still on lead guitar.

I don't believe anyone shook up rock and roll more than the Yardbirds did in 1965-1966. They just opened so much up that no had before. Keith Relf gets ragged on quite a bit these days as a singer, but I guess that's also not that new. One time I left a Yardbirds cassette in a car, and my dad came back into the house after he'd gone somewhere and said something about the singer not being in tune.

Is it strange to say that wasn't the point? Relf is one of my favorite singers of all-time. The Yardbirds relied on the harmonica--as played by Relf--more than any other British band did. It had equal footing with the lead guitar, and I don't think that was a problem but rather a strength.

What you'll notice with this clip here is the struggles that tended to be in evidence with the camerawork on these things at the time. Jeff Beck will launch into this stunning solo, and the camera won't even be on him, such that one might think, "Wait? Where is that sound coming from?" as if it were off-stage.

The Yardbirds are very tight here. This is a formidable ensemble doing their thing.


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