Ok, 2016 has been a terrible year. One of the worst in memory. There, I’ve said it. If the year was good to you, I’m happy for you, but so much negative stuff happened that was beyond our control — the deaths of some or our favorite musicians, and the ugly political climate to name just two — that it’s hard to see how anyone could call this year good and not be accused of worrying only about their own self-interest.
What do you do with such an annus horribilus? You kick it the hell out the door, that’s what you do with it. And when you do, you could party like it’s 1999, but that would only remind us of one of the biggest losses we suffered this year. Time is a healer though, so let’s take it back a little further. Let’s go all the way back to 1962 and party with the great Sam Cooke.
Cooke’s original recording of “Having a Party” was released by RCA Records on May 8 of that year. The song, written by Cooke, had been recorded just two weeks earlier at RCA Studios in Hollywood, and produced by the team of Hugo & Luigi. Lou Rawls provided background vocals just as he did on the record’s B-side, “Bring it On Home to Me.” The sessions musicians included Wrecking Crew stalwarts like guitarist Tommy Tedesco, bass player Ray Pohlman, and pianist Ernie Freeman, among others.
The story is told that the recording session was in the very spirit of the song itself.
“It was a very happy session,” recalled engineer Al Schmitt. “Everybody was just having a ball. We were getting people out there [on the floor], and some of the outtakes were hilarious, there was so much ad lib that went on.”
Despite the fun atmosphere, there was serious hit-making work to be done. “Having a Party” was recorded first at the session, and it took the 18-piece backing group 12 takes to get it just right. It was worth all the effort though because when they were done for the day, Cooke and the assembled musicians had created an indelible two-sided hit.
“Having a Party” rolled right up to #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. Given time though it became a hit for the ages, due in no small part to cover versions by Rod Stewart, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, and the Pointer Sisters. Cooke himself used the song as the closing number at his shows from the time of its release until his death in December, 1964.
No one can know what’s ahead of us in 2017. So when New Year’s Eve comes along it will be a good time to put “Having a Party” on the turntable, and celebrate like it’s the last time we’ll have the chance. Tomorrow is promised to no one. Happy New Year!