Evolution of a Song – “A Change Is Gonna Come” (videos)

I remember looking through a friend’s Rolling Stone as a freshman in college. It was the issue that touted the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Being a list fiend and a music geek, I devoured the list, skimming through 500 – 101. The top 100 was what I really cared about. Hell, the Top 25 was I all I really cared about. I wanted to make sure I had every one in my music library so I could make my own iTunes playlist based on the Rolling Stone list.

There were a few songs I didn’t have, so I bought them on iTunes to complete my playlist. However, there was one song I didn’t own that I was completely blown away by and that was #12, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”. For some odd reason, I had NEVER heard the song until 2005, when the list came out. The first time I did hear it, in my stuffy college dorm room, I was nearly moved to tears. Since then, the song seems to have become a staple of American cultural literacy. President Obama even referred to the song directly in a speech after he was elected as President of the United States in 2008, saying “It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, change has come to America.”

Below are various versions of the song, in chronological order. First, Sam Cooke’s original recording, released after his death in 1964. Otis Redding included the song as “Change Gonna Come” on his 1965 album Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul. In 1971, Chicago underground soul legend Baby Huey recorded his version of the song that was released posthumously in 1971 on The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend.

Skip ahead to the ’90s. Spike Lee used Cooke’s original version during a powerful montage scene for his 1992 biopic Malcolm X. The song starts at 4:41 in the movie clip below. Lauryn Hill covered the song with the Fugees in the mid-’90s. I don’t know the exact year on this one though. Nas used his own rendition of the song as part of the intro for his 1996 album It Was Written. Soul man Al Green also sang a live version of the song in 1996, for the opening of the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1998, Patti Labelle released the song as part of an album called Live! One Night Only.

The singer Seal released his “A Change is Gonna Come” as a single from his 2008 album, Soul. This version has the most YouTube hits of them all. Wayne Brady also covered the tune in 2008 and his version earned him a Grammy nomination in the Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance category. Lastly, two other renditions of the song were heard in 2008… The Arcade Fire performed the song live as part of a benefit concert for Barack Obama, and Adam Lambert famously belted the tune on his American Idol finale.

I’ve concluded the video medley by returning to a Barack Obama montage edited to the music of Same Cooke’s original “A Change Is Gonna Come”.