A Change Is Gonna Come is a song written and recorded in 1964 by Sam Cooke just a few months prior to his untimely death. It has since been covered by countless groups, most notably by The Supremes, but none have met or exceeded the original.
In the early 1960s, Sam Cooke was at the center of the R&B world, which was just beginning to enter the Motown era. Cooke was almost legendary in the black community at the time due to his great recording success and his almost indescribable appeal to both men and women. By 1963, Cooke was also working as a record producer on his own independent label, SAR, which would release many of his final albums.
Cooke became convinced that the style of music that would be popular in the mid to late 1960s was gospel, not necessarily in terms of Christian lyrical content, but in terms of style, and interestingly enough, he was already predicting a much "funkier" sound for the next decade. To prove this point, Cooke went into the studio and recorded a number of tracks in late 1964 that he believed illustrated the various styles that he saw as emergent over the next several years.
These sessions were still unfinished when Sam Cooke was shot and killed on December 11th, 1964 in Los Angeles, California under extremely mysterious circumstances. In the aftermath of his death, RCA Records dug into the session recordings and posthumously issued a single, Shake b/w A Change Is Gonna Come, which is today considered to be one of the most influential singles of all time.
The single featured one song, Shake, that was very hard-edged rhythm and blues with just the slightest touch of what would later develop into the funk sound in the 1970s; that alone would have made the single memorable. But it is the other side that is eternally haunting and leaves you wondering what might have been.
A Change Is Gonna Come
is done in the style of a gospel
song with string
accompaniment, with the sound of Sam Cooke
's voice somehow still rising above all of it as he echoes the mournful words. This song is perhaps the clearest demonstration of the potential power and majesty
of the gospel
sound when applied and makes it clear that the style
has boundless potential. Perhaps if Sam Cooke
had lived, his premonition about gospel styles might have come true.
In a way it was a return to roots for Cooke, who started his career as a gospel singer with the Soul Stirrers before moving on to more pop and rhythm and blues oriented numbers. It was his belief that all styles of music deserved to be mixed together, and listening to a compilation of Cooke numbers makes this very clear.
But we are left with this song which is almost haunting beyond words, but yet somehow still uplifting. Having heard covers of this song done later with a greater rhythm and blues influence, I think that it is the strength of Cooke's voice along with the gospel arrangement that really makes this song almost transcendent.
I would love to hear more recordings from those final sessions of his, because he was clearly on the cusp of recording some truly incredible things. Much in the same way that Smile is made mythical by fans, I believe that an offering of the music from Sam Cooke's final sessions would provide a glimpse into a truly great creative musical mind.
When I sit at home alone and feel as though the weight of the world is falling on my shoulders, I'll get out an old record and put it on, and Sam Cooke will sing to me and make things better.