Sam Cooke

A Change Is Gonna Come

Song Review by

Like everybody else in the early '60s, pop/gospel singer/songwriter Sam Cooke was affected by Bob Dylan's philosophical song about civil rights, "Blowin' in the Wind," which became a major hit in 1963. Cooke, according to his biographer, Daniel Wolff, marveled that a song on that subject could be written by a white man and that it could become a pop hit. He performed "Blowin' in the Wind" and he wrote his own "answer" song, the remarkable "A Change Is Gonna Come." The song melded gospel, blues, and protest elements into an emotional statement by a black man about where he had come from and where he and his people were going. Though openly skeptical of religion (one of the many amazing aspects of the lyrics), it makes an affirmation that answers Dylan's questions, while fully acknowledging the struggles Dylan pondered. For a man who had walked away from a gospel career and long veered between the early stirrings of soul music and harmless pop, "A Change Is Gonna Come" was a revelation. Cooke recorded the song for his Ain't That Good News album, released in the late winter of 1964. On December 11, 1964, he was shot to death in circumstances that have never been adequately explained. Eleven days later, his record label, RCA Victor, released his single "Shake" with "A Change Is Gonna Come" (which by now seemed disturbingly prophetic) on the B-side. "Shake" became a Top Ten hit, but "A Change Is Gonna Come" also scored, making the Top 40 of the pop charts and the Top Ten of the R&B charts, and with that it began to spread as an anthem of the civil rights movement, earning covers from prominent R&B performers like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. In 1970, the 5th Dimension scored a chart entry by combining it in a medley with the Rascals' "People Gotta Be Free." The song continued to earn covers through the 1970s and '80s, gaining acceptance as a classic. When, in the fall of 1999, VH1 staged a benefit Concert of the Century for its Save the Music program to buy musical instruments for schools, a show at which performers were asked to sing both their own songs and selections from among the best songs written in the 20th century, the Reverend Al Green, a spiritual son of Sam Cooke if there ever was one, chose "A Change Is Gonna Come" and gave it a blistering performance.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Ain't That Good News 1964 ABKCO Records / Universal 3:11
Shake 1965 RCA
No Image 1976 RCA
The Man and His Music 1986 RCA 3:13
Keep Movin' On 2002 ABKCO Records 3:14
Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 2003 ABKCO Records 3:13
Reflections 2008 7:41