A Change Is Gonna Come, Ooo, Yes It Is

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

This great song by Sam Cooke popped up in my mind yesterday. While he wrote it in a very different context, I still felt it fits the current situation where so many of us are hunkered down at home, hoping this bloody COVID-19 pandemic is going to turn a corner and that eventually, the country can get back to more normal circumstances.

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

The tune was inspired by unfortunate events Cooke experienced in Louisiana in October 1963. On October 8, Cooke called a local motel in Shreveport to reserve rooms for his wife and himself, as well as his entourage. But it turned out to be a “whites-only” motel, so when they arrived, a nervous front desk clerk told them there were no vacancies. Cooke got angry and demanded to speak with the manager, but his wife convinced him to leave. After he eventually agreed, they drove away voicing insults and blowing their horns. When they got to another local motel, the police were waiting and arrested them for “disturbing the peace.”

I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Sam Cooke New York Times 1963

The news agency UPI reported on the incident with the headline Negro Band Leader Held in Shreveport. The piece was picked up by The New York Times on October 9 (see picture above). The story lead reads as follows: SHREVEPORT, La., Oct. 8 (UPI) – Sam Cooke of Los Angeles, a Negro band leader; his wife and two associates were arrested for disturbing the peace today after they tried to register at a white motel. George D’Artois, Public Safety Commissioner, said the four were not arrested for trying to register at the motel, but for creating a disturbance after they failed to get accommodations

Last year – that’s 56 years after the despicable incident – Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins apologized to Cooke’s family for the event – well, I suppose better late than never! He also posthumously awarded Cooke the key to the city. Sadly, something tells me his actions were not embraced by everybody. Ignorance and racism are a bit like the coronavirus – they persist, at least in certain circles. Let’s leave at that!

Another factor that prompted Cooke to write the song was Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. According to Songfacts, he couldn’t believe that tune had been penned by a white man. After hearing it, he became determined to write something similar. And he did. Following Christmas in 1963, Cooke presented the tune to J.W. Alexander, a close music associate. Apparently, Alexander cautioned Cooke the song may not be as successful as his previous lighter, poppier songs, but Cooke decided to proceed anyway, saying he wanted to make his father proud.

A Change Is Gonna Come was recorded at RCA Studios in Los Angeles on January 30, 1964. The session was conducted by Cooke’s musical arranger and guitarist René Hall. Production is credited to songwriting and producer duo and cousins Luigi Creatore and Hugo Peretti. They worked out of New York City’s storied Brill Building and are also known for having produced other Cooke songs like Twistin’ the Night Away and Another Saturday Night, The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens, and Shout by The Isley Brothers.

A Change Is Gonna Come first appeared on Cooke’s final studio album Ain’t That Good News released on March 1, 1964. It wasn’t issued as a single until December 11, 1964, two weeks after Cooke had been shot to death under mysterious circumstances by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles. The manager claimed she had acted in self-defense after Cooke had forced himself into her office, half-naked, looking for a woman who had spent the evening with him. The single version omitted the verse and chorus preceding the bridge (“I go to the movies…”) for radio airplay.

The tune became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement. Interesting, Cooke only performed it once in public, on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on February 7, 1964 – and only after his manager Allen Klein had pushed him to do so. Cooke told him there was no time to pull together the necessary musical arrangement, but Klein managed for RCA to pay for a full string section. According to Wikipedia, after that performance, Cooke had second thoughts about the tune, apparently in part triggered by Bobby Womack who felt it sounded “like death.” Cooke reportedly answered, “Man, that’s kind of how it sounds like to me. That’s why I’m never going to play it in public.”

As you’d expect, a gem like A Change Is Gonna Come has been covered by many other artists. One of my favorite takes is by Solomon Burke, who made it the title track of a studio album he released in 1986. He truly made it his own with a riveting version that takes the song to the then-present time of the mid-’80s. If you haven’t heard it, give this a listen!

I’d like to close with another intriguing cover by rock band Greta Van Fleet. Yep, you read this right – they included it on their second EP From the Fires that came out in November 2017. And, holy smoke, their gifted lead vocalist Josh Kiszka is absolutely killing it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

8 thoughts on “A Change Is Gonna Come, Ooo, Yes It Is”

  1. Thanks, Christian I didn’t know this story behind this song. Cooke had such a great voice that was instantly recognizable…
    His death shouldn’t have happened. I’ve read things about that…his record company had mob ties and he was due money. Just a nasty business back then…and whenever Allen Klein is involved it usually isn’t good.

    I never heard about the key to the city…a little late.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t blame you. It goes so deep that you would spend days writing about it.

        The first time I noticed Sam Cooke was watching Animal House in 1980 or so and hearing What A Wonderful World…been loving that voice ever since.

        I never heard the covers before but they are good..the Greta Van Fleet cover is interesting because I would have NEVER thought about them doing it. They do a good job…his voice has a hell of a range.

        The Soloman Burke cover is smooth…really smooth.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This may sound over the top, but Burke’s version literally has brought me to tears!

        As for Greta, exactly, you’d never expected it from a band like they are. And, yes, their lead singer has smoking hot pipes that are just mind-boggling!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. No it doesn’t…the song is that strong. Man I have songs that do that to me.

        Greta…I first heard people comparing them to Led Zeppelin…that is unfair to hoist on any band. Thats like saying the “new Dylan” etc.

        Like

  2. Good topic and a great, great song. I listened to the covers and I gotta say that Sam’s version still does it for me. It’s mega-powerful, singing, production – everything. The song was used to great effect in Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X.” This scene is when Malcolm is heading to the Audubon Ballroom where he was assassinated.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That surely is a powerful scene. Denzel Washington just is a terrific actor!

      I can see why your favorite is the original. Cooke was such a great vocalist and his performance of that tune is immensely powerful, really giving you goosebumps!

      Obviously, I like the covers I included as well. I think Solomon Burke also had a great voice and like how he kind of brought the tune into the then-present time.

      As for Greta Van Fleet, it’s not the type of song you’d expect a rock band to take on, but I think they pulled it off nicely. Again, the singing is just through the roof, in my view!

      Liked by 1 person

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