THE GREATEST B-SIDE OF ALL TIME?

It was hearing this song coming out of a radio as I passed a local shop the other day that inspired the posting. I have always associated A Change Is Gonna Come with my days in student activism, thinking it was the perfect soundtrack to my miniscule role in ridding the world of atomic weapons and bringing about the end of the despicable system of apartheid in South Africa. It was a song that, when I was particularly drunk, could bring tears to my eyes, given the seemingly simple nature of its message against the seemingly impossible task of achieving significant change.

mp3 : Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come

My intention was to have this posting headed up ‘NEVER SETTLE FOR STATUS QUO’ which I thought worked on a couple of levels. It was only when I looked into the history of the song did I learn that it was only issued as a b-side in the USA in 1964 and similarly in the UK in 1965. As such, there is surely some justification for calling it the greatest of all time in respect of that genre.

The other thing I hadn’t realised was that Sam Cooke only ever performed the song once in his lifetime. It had been recorded on 30 January 1964 and just a week later was aired on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. The singer hadn’t been keen to do so, but was persuaded by his manager after the promise that it would involve a full string section performing in the TV studio. Sadly, NBC did not keep a tape of this truly historic performance.

The album for which the track had been recorded, Ain’t That The Good News, was released on 1 March 1994. The fact that Sam Cooke wasn’t keen to perform the song, in part because of the complexity of its arrangement, most likely had a lot to do with the fact that it remained an album track only throughout the year, albeit it received a great number of radio plays and had been picked up as an anthem by the civil rights movement.

RCA decided that it should be be the b-side to a new song that Sam Cooke had just recorded with it to be released just before Christmas 1964.

mp3 : Sam Cooke – Shake

We will never know if the singer had changed his mind about performing A Change…in the live setting or within the confines of a TV studio as he was shot dead in tragic and bewildering circumstances in a Los Angeles motel on 11 December 1964.

The release of the single went ahead and it became a posthumous Top Ten hit in the USA in February 1965.

JC

5 thoughts on “THE GREATEST B-SIDE OF ALL TIME?

  1. My father enthusiastically played a newly-purchased Best Of Sam Cooke cassette to the somewhat cynical teenage me. I was blown away by the tracks on that album and I do remember asking my father to rewind it so that I could hear what I considered to be the standout track once more. Obviously it was this one.

  2. Somewhere in the distance I can hear “Who Shot Sam?” Of all the musicians I’ve ever heard, if I was able to sing like only one of them it would be Sam Cooke.

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