Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Change is Gonna Come

Sam Cooke's prophetic and haunting A Change is Gonna Come has had plenty of airplay this week as the world celebrates Barack Obama's inauguration. And rightly so. It's not only deeply political, but soulful and beautifully sung, as was everything by Sam Cooke. Yet when it was released as a single in 1964 it was only the B side to the uptempo Shake (another great Sam track). What's more it was a cut down version compared with the version that appeared on the Ain't That Good News album. Was it censored because it was deemed too political? Or just reduced from 3 minutes 14 seconds to just over two and a half minutes to ensure more airplay?
Sam apparently wrote the song as a black man's response to Dylan's Blowing in the Wind and performed it on the Tonight Show in early 1964, a performance lost to posterity because it was not on tape. Peter Guralnick in his book Dream Boogie says that Sam was hesitant about releasing it as a single and supported the decision to cut out the verse "I go to the movies/ And I go downtown/ Somebody keep telling me/ Don't hang around". But being ever the businessman perhaps Sam was avoiding controversy.
Whatever the reason it's a magnificent song and a magnificent performance. 45 years later, and over 44 years after Sam's death, we see a black man in the White House - something which would have been unimaginable back then. The world is full of hope for Obama, and his inaugural speech today was inspirational. Let us hope that change really will come.


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