Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"A Change Is Gonna Come" (1965)

12. Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come" (Feb. 13, 1965, #31)

More evidence of the giant impact that Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" intriguingly had on African-Americans in the early '60s, Sam Cooke's posthumous penultimate hit was written as his response to the Dylan ballad, which he included in his stage show shortly before his death. (In No Direction Home, Mavis Staples memorably quotes the line, "How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man," obviously amazed that a young white boy from Minnesota could so aptly capture so much of the essence of her father's life.) Certainly Cooke's song feels now as if he were looking as far forward as he or indeed any of us still possibly could, with a sobering, simple, and profoundly moving message, one that resonates yet: "A change is gonna come." At the same time, Cooke draws on his deepest roots as a gifted gospel singer, his stock in trade for years before he turned to popular music (in the process outraging a good many of his most devoted fans; the circumstances of his death didn't help any with that either). In many ways this song expresses a gravitas that Cooke himself missed, though his popular career nevertheless features some of the best and most influential black pop music to be found in its era or any other. Dressed up with a lush orchestration that makes it as big as Carnegie Hall and then some, the images of Cooke's words bristle with a kind of 19th-century cum ancient veracity that only serves to ground the song further. It may not have peaked that high, but it has lasted a long time.

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