Another thoughtful contribution from Colette….One short observation — It had been at least a decade since I had heard “Change Gonna Come” until a very unique and brave young man used it at his American Idol audition. I’m quite sure that were only a handful of contestants that knew that song in 2005, yet the very next year it was one of the most used songs in the audition process. Even a fellow contestant tried to pull it off in competition. Point being, good music is timeless and it kun-NECKs through generations when it’s really good. And, “Change” is good.
Given Music Maven’s calling our attention to the Stax/Volt documentary andand the , it seems time to listen again to one of the greatest songs written in the ferment of the 1960s Civil Rights era and covered so memorably by the Nevilles, , , and so many other artists, and brought to the attention of a new generation in ‘s “ ” movie. To me, it is startlingly relevant again, but always poignant.
‘s “Change is Gonna Come” has a fascinating history which illustrates the synergy and inspiration that black and white musicians have shared with one another. Cooke was, of course, a genius singer-songwriter who in the late 1950s, after making the transition from gospel superstar (he started with the wonderful Soul Stirrersgospel group), shot up to the top of the pops. We all know this irresistible song of Sam’s, his first major secular hit (1.7 million copies sold), which covered with gusto on “ “:
— “You Send Me” — , 1957 from a documentary with comments by , and others who knew him.
In 1963, Cooke heard a recording of the young folksinger, performing his watershed anthem, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” By all accounts, Cooke was moved and impressed by this white artist’s comprehension of racism and desire for a future free of it. He recorded the tune, upping the tempo and giving it a pop energy:
— “Blowin’ in the Wind” —
Cooke was also moved to write his own response to the questions Dylan posed about “how many roads” a man must walk down “before they call him a man.” There are varying explanations in biographies about the incidents that inspired Cooke to take pen in hand in 1963 to compose “A Change is Gonna Come,” in addition to his reaction to the Dylan tune. These included personal matters (the tragic accidental downing death of his 18-month old son), matters stirring in the news (his discussions with sit-in demonstrators inafter playing a concert in the city) and the bigotry he had endured (when he tried to check into a “whites only” hotel in , he was arrested for “disturbing the peace.” The fact was, fortune and fame didn’t shield black artists from discrimination back then — but at least they had a public voice to protest it.
Whatever triggers there were, Cook’s song was quickly recognized as a masterwork, a personal and universal expression of the urgent need for change, for the end to ignorance and despair. A song of weariness and hope, despair and belief, drawn in part from his own memories of growing up in rural. From the wailing open line, to the bluesy bridge, it never fails to transmit a transcendent power. The first two verses:
I was born by the river, in a little tent And just like the river, I’ve been running ever since It’s been a long time coming But I know a change is gonna come It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky It’s been a long time coming But I know a change is gonna come The song has not only been sung and recorded countless times, its title has also found its way into our vernacular as a figure of speech. Could there be any greater tribute to a songwriter (or any writer) than that?
When Cooke sang it on TV’s “” in 1964, it was considered a heroic act. Sadly, the tape of that live show was erased, but the original recording is timeless:
— “A Change is Gonna Come” —, 1963
Of the many great covers of “ACGC”, I want to highlight a few. I was moved by this raw, modern acoustic version of‘ and Wyclef. Hill is a stunning singer, and I wish she recorded and toured more consistently. Notice that she substitutes “I was born by the river in a tenement” for “in a little tent”:
— & Wyclef
Al Green is an artistic progeny of Cooke, the next generation of southern, gospel-fired soul singer whose music grabs and pulls your heart. Here’s his tremendous homage, which he sang at the Rock ‘n Roll Museum. There’s a bonus starter, the irresistible Green tune “Tired of Being Alone”:
— Al Green
NOTE: This very wild performance is anchored by a band led by two of the great MG’s: keyboard player Booker T. and guitarist Steve Cropper.
admired Cooke enormously, and was very flattered that a song of his own would inspire another civil rights anthem that had such impact. Dylan is who he is, his voice is craggy and uncompromising and idiosyncratic. It always gets to me, but if you can’t stand the cracks and crevices you might want to walk on by:
Dylan, live performance
Beverly Knight is Britain’s “Queen of Soul,” and while she’s no Aretha she is a potent R & B artist who gives every tune her all. In this live performance on British TV she takes a cue from Cooke’s recording by adding a few strings to her arrangement:
I also like Corneille’s version. Born in, and raised in Montreal, he sings “Change is Gonna Come” with great feeling. A star in and , he’s issuing his first “cross over” English language album this year, which I can’t wait to hear — great high soul tenor voice. Music (especially ‘s) truly transcends borders:
This is a very touching version by, another musical heir to Cooke, when you consider how short and strife-worn his own life was. Sometimes with Vandross, the vocal embellishments obscure the tune itself and its meaning. But I think he got to the heart and marrow of this one:
, in a televised tribute to Sam Cooke
Though the song was especially meaningful for the African American community, anyone can relate to its depth and questing. I don’t know much about this Alabama native in her 30’s (anyone care to enlighten me?), but I really respect her raw, direct and meaningful interpretation of this song. Not the most polished video, but worth a listen:
Music Maven NOTE: See comments for “enlightenment”
, live at the Blue Note
Last, we must again go tofor a rendition that ranks right up there with Cooke’s. Thank you MM for all your recent attention to an artist who, like Cooke, shone so brightly and left us far too soon. You feel like every inch of Otis’ being understands the torment and faith in “A Change is Gonna Come”:
Music Mavin Epilogue: Interestingly, I came across this version of “Change” recently and I was saddened. Somehow, it seems a bit sac religious to me and not what I think that Sam Cooke had in mind when he penned the poignant words of this song. Maybe I don’t understand the rap genre, but this seems like a mockery of all that folks like Sam Cooke endured to pioneer a path for future musical generations.