“A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke
Although it does not contain any overt-religious references, “A Change Is Gonna Come” can perhaps best be described as a spiritual tune. Indeed a listener can easily presume that its lyrics actually predate the mid 1960’s, which is when they were actually written.
And like all truly-elaborate metaphors, the lyrics of this song can be construed in a number of different ways. But generally speaking, it was intended to be Sam Cooke’s (1931-1964) way of addressing the Civil Rights Movement, which was in full swing when this track was released.
The Civil Rights Movement is the term used to describe the official fight for African-Americans to enjoy equal rights in the United States. These actions were at their peak during the 1960s. And to make a long story short, on top of being viewed as second-class citizens, African-Americans were regularly mistreated (i.e. discriminated against) by more-powerful classes in America. And that is the reality that Sam is speaking to.
So based on that general understanding, Sam begins the song by alluding to the idea that he has been subject to this reality since the moment he was born. Indeed he suffers a “hard living” – so much so that he seems to fantasize about dying.
And it is within the third verse where it really begins to become apparent that Cooke is referring to racism. Moreover according to the fourth verse, it would appear that one of the major challenges the Civil Rights Movement was faced with was something along the lines of infighting.
And all of this combined, as alluded to earlier, sometimes has the singer ready to throw in the towel, as in believe that the times will remain the same. But he has decided to “carry on” despite such discouragement. Certainly as the title (and chorus) suggests, he is optimistic that ‘a change is going to come’. And this is directly irrespective of the fact that he cannot definitively perceive how or when such will occur.
So going back to the spiritual motif, this song is very much one of faith. Being born under the harrowing specter of racism, repression and a self-defeating people, all things considered the singer does not see anything to suggest that such is ever going to improve. However he is still supremely optimistic that at the end of the day they will.
Inspiration behind “A Change Is Gonna Come”
An overt incident of racism contributed to Sam Cooke, the sole writer of “A Change Is Gonna Come”, penning this song. In summation, this occurred in 1963. Said date saw Sam make reservations for himself and his wife at a Holiday Inn located in the city of Shreveport in Louisiana. But when they arrived, they were turned away under the premise of lack of vacancy. This caused Cooke and his brother to protest and eventually disturb the peace, at least according to the cops who arrested them shortly after they vacated the premises.
But on a more-positive note, in 2019 the Mayor of Shreveport did apologize for the event. He even went as far as gifting a long-deceased Sam Cooke the ‘key to the city’.
Another fire which burned in Cooke’s heart that influenced the composition of “A Change Is Gonna Come” was his affinity for the 1963 Bob Dylan tune “Blowin’ in the Wind”. In fact Cooke felt envy, if you will, against Dylan – aka “a White boy” – for putting out such a powerful song in support of the Civil Rights Movement.
And although in its seriousness “A Change Is Gonna Come” deviated from what Sam Cooke was known for, he felt a calling – so to say – to release this song. In fact he perceived it as the kind of track that would make his father, a minister, proud. Indeed having grown up in the church himself, this song was considered somewhat of a homecoming for Mr. Cooke.
Facts about “A Change Is Gonna Come”
This classic was released by RCA Records in 1964. It was the fifth single from Sam Cooke’s final album, “Ain’t That Good News”.
However, the first time Cooke actually performed the tune was prior to the release of the album. This was on 7 February 1964 when he appeared as a guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson”.
That was the only time Sam is known to have performed this song in his lifetime. Part of the reason would logically be that he was shot dead less than a year later. But more to the point, Cooke had a reluctance to performing it live due to its complexity and inherent morbidity.
“A Change Is Gonna Come” is one of the most-recognizable songs in American music history. For instance, it was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2007. Rolling Stone also ranked it as high as number 12 on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Moreover, it was a track that was heavily associated with the Civil Rights Movement. It was even featured in a pivotal scene of Spike Lee’s 1992 “Malcolm X” film.
In fact Barack Obama himself referenced “A Change Is Gonna Come” when he became US President in 2008. And there are also numerous other high standards this track has achieved.
But you wouldn’t know that based on how it performed on the charts, modestly peaking at number 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the tune did manage to reach as high as number nine on Billboard’s R&B Singles Chart.
There are a number of major pop artists who have covered “A Change Is Gonna Come” throughout the years. And some worth mentioning are:
- Aretha Franklin (1967)
- Patti LaBelle (2004)
- Seal (2008)
- Beyoncé Knowles (2013)
- Céline Dion (2019)
Who wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come”?
This iconic classic was penned exclusively by none other than the great Sam Cooke.