There’s been alot of talk about the next song, maybe too much talk.
Sorry. But it seems true that Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is seeing a resurgence, most due to the political season, these primaries (and later the general election) being our current chance to put the country back on track after eight of the worst years in my lifetime (semi-apologies to any billionaires or Luddites or intolerant fundamentalists who might be reading. Might.).
I believe I came across it twelve years ago in You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, a beyond-decent biography of Sam Cooke by Daniel J Wolff, CR Crain, Clifton White, and G. David Tennenbaum (so many authors hinting ahead how it reads like a collected oral history), that Cooke wrote “A Change is Gonna Come” as a reaction to Dylan’s “The Times They are A Changin’,” not exactly as an angry response, but out of the righteous notion that such a song, in the early sixties, might need a better author than a New York transplant from the midwest who had chose to record under a much less ethnic name than the one with which he was born.
Of course, most versions I’ve heard and those I’m now receiving by email should never have been recorded, since “A Change is Gonna Come” separates pretenders from pros by its third note. Cooke starts at the top of his range, and then almost scapes the bottom of it within a bar. And unlike others, even formidable talents like Solomon Burke or Baby Huey (or worse: the Jackson 5, Patti Labelle, Cooke has the golden voice to need little more than a bass, horns, and strings behind him. No drums. Even Otis Redding had trouble (he cuts the third note off early) with it but, being a Sam Cooke acolytle, I’m sure he loved it enough to be excused. And Redding’s more interested in turning the song into something less about his own voice than it is about martial pain in the lyrics, and the stately blues, the effective dirge, hidden within. Otis succeeds at that, as he does whenever he’s communicating pain. With him, it’s a funeral march rather than an expression of hope.
But I do enjoy Baby Huey’s version, if only for its insane honesty. All crazy-ass nine minutes of it, with explosive screaming, crashing cymbals, exhorting Jesus, and then an improvised speech that offers — a whaddya know — some wisdom about personal (and what’s not political then?) change:
… it took about twenty years of very serious smoking, a few ups and downs, a few trips, a little space odyssey once in a while, to get back … to get back to being a kid all over …then comes the age where you start drinking wine and start taking care of business at the drive-in movies and then one day a partner gives you one of them funny looking cigarettes …and after that first hit, the whole world sort of brightens up just a little bit … but you know I come back from Indiana where we still got outhouses and brothers wearin’ pointed-toe shoes and carrying 45s … there’s three kinds of people in this world, that’s why I know a change is gotta come … there’s three kind of people in this world: there’s white people, there’s black people, and there’s my people …
It’s how The Fat Elvis would have done it, if backed by Booker T and implanted with the brain of James Brown while high on Vicodin.
And here’s one for the old regime: