Week 138: “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

New Year’s is about change. And change is a big, complicated, mixed bag of emotions.

No song captures the fear, excitement, or inevitability of change better than Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come”. So for that reason, no matter what kind of a year you had in 2012– whether it was a tough year, a wonderful year, a heartbreaking year, or just a year of waiting for something– I encourage you to use this song as a starting point for 2013.

What makes this a beautiful song:

1. It’s conflicted. Cooke wanted to make a shift from singing innocuous pop songs to documenting the growing civil rights movement in the US, but feared alienating his white fans. You can hear his fear of taking a first step in the line, “It’s been too hard living/But I’m afraid to die/Cause I don’t know what’s up there/Beyond the sky.”

2. It’s determined. There isn’t really a chorus, but every vocal line ends with the resilient phrase, “It’s been a long time coming/But I know a change is gonna come.” The horns at 1:22 give a hint of a march, adding to the feeling of persistence.

3. It’s hopeful.  “There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long/but now I think I’m able to carry on.” Cooke was shot at a motel in Los Angeles a week before this song was released as a single. But somehow I don’t see it as tragic; he succeeded in steering his career in a new direction regardless of what his fans would think. He recorded the song he wanted to record, and its wide recognition as one of the greatest protest songs of all-time has left him a well-deserved legacy.

Recommended listening activity:

Realizing that it’s not too late.

Buy it here.