365 Days of Album Recommendations – Nov 16

Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come


Normally, I recommend full albums here. But every once in a while, there’s a certain single that just has to be experienced on its own. This is one of them.

Here’s the thing. When I thing about an instrument, or a sonic component in a song, and when I try to assess its importance, and its accomplishment, I think first of what it can do that no other instrument can do. Take the bass. Yes, it can play melodies, but so can lots of other instruments. But what it can do on the low end; well, that’s its own realm. That’s where the bass reigns supreme. That combination of low frequency rhythm, percussion, and melody together—that’s what makes the bass happen. So I don’t generally dig bass players who do “other” things with the bass. I can appreciate it perhaps, but I ain’t gonna dig it.

Which brings me to voice. I’ve often been accused—by people I like to argue about music with—of deliberately eschewing, for lack of a better term, “vocal” music. And yes, it’s true. I don’t like Pet Sounds. I don’t like The Beatles. In general, I don’t actually really like singers. Why?

Here’s the thing. What can a voice do? Sing a melody. Big deal. Every instrument can play melodies. Sing a harmony? Same again. Vibrato? See: trumpet. Portamento? Enter the trombone.

So what’s the one thing a voice can do that NO other instrument can do? Right, lyrics.

Now, count on your digits how many truly great singers are there out there, who also sing amazing lyrics?


Which brings us back to Sam Cooke. Great voice? You tell me. Not much range to speak of. But great timbre. Which is all fine and well, but it ain’t what makes a legend.

But when you take that voice, and it sings this song, your heart explodes. Boom. THAT … is what a voice can do.

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ev’r since
It’s been a long time, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep tellin’ me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
Then I go to my brother
And I say brother help me please
But he winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees, oh
There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

And THAT ^ is what a lyric can do.

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