Tune du Jour: “A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cook
THE CLASH of Cover Tunes: Billy Bragg vs. Mike Farris & Roseland Rhythm Review vs. The Gits
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Sam Cooke wrote A Change Is Gonna Come in December 1963. Cooke’s previous work had been in gospel music and, later, soulful pop songs that were sentimental and, at times, satirical in nature. A Change Is Gonna Come was markedly different from anything Cooke had ever composed before. The song is defiant in nature, emphatic that a change for long-suffering African Americans “is gonna come”. Cooke wrote A Change Is Gonna Come in response to an ugly incident he endured in October 1963. Cooke and his band were touring the south and had reservations at a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, Louisiana. When they arrived they were told that no rooms were available; it was obvious that the hotel had rooms available but was a whites-only establishment, which was the real reason Cooke’s reservations would not be honored. Cooke was furious and let the manager know it. When Cooke drove off in search of another hotel, a police car followed and arrested him for disturbing the peace. Not surprisingly he was traumatized by the overtly racist treatment. Another inspiration in Cooke writing such a blunt song about racial inequality was his admiration for Bob Dylan’s masterpiece, Blowin’ In The Wind, which was released in August 1963. Cooke was captivated by the song’s frank admonishment of racism and was said to be a bit ashamed that a white man was speaking out for the black community while he had yet to make any statement at all. Indeed, Cooke told his producer, J.W. Alexander, that he hoped A Change Is Gonna Come would make his father proud. 

Everybody's Dressin' Funny ... Cover Me Impressed!

Everybody’s Dressin’ Funny …
Cover Me Impressed!

Sam Cooke debuted A Change Is Gonna Come on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson on February 7, 1964. It would be the only time he ever performed the song. The musical accompaniment was complex and its essence foreboding and somewhat frightening. After hearing it on The Tonight Show, Cooke’s friend and protege, Bobby Womack, told him that the song sounded “like death.” Cooke responded, “Man, that’s kind of how it sounds like to me. That’s why I’m never going to play it in public.” Womack clarified his thoughts, that it wasn’t deathly, but rather “spooky,” but Cooke never performed the song again.

A Change Is Gonna Come was released on December 22, 1964. Tragically, under circumstances that to this day are still mysterious, Sam Cooke had been shot and killed on December 11, 1964, at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California. He was but 33 years of age at the time.

Though only a moderate success in terms of sales, A Change Is Gonna Come is widely recognized as Sam Cooke’s seminal work. Not surprisingly the song became a staple for the country’s rising civil rights movement.

The Original

Sam Cooke:


THE CLASH of Cover Tunes


Billy Bragg vs. Mike Farris & Roseland Rhythm Review vs. The Gits
Billy Bragg:

Mike Farris & Roseland Rhythm Review:

The Gits:


Oh the disharmony! Much like Harlan County there are no neutrals here. It is your solemn responsibility to decide which cover song prevails. In other words … Which Side Are You On?!!? 


Disclaimer: Votes cast from Florida may or may not be counted.

  1. Arnold Plotnick says:

    You know… the expected winner is Billy Bragg of course, given the material and the politics involved, but he really adds nothing to Cooke’s original version. It’s as straight a cover as can be. I was surprised that The Gits did as good a version as they did, given that I was already judging a book by its cover (silly me), and the band name, graphic image, and album title (Enter: The Conquering Chicken) led me to believe that the band wasn’t about to take an important song like this seriously. They did. But…the Mike Farris version seemed right. He really sounded like he meant it, and having some black backup singers seems very appropriate for this song. I give it to them.

  2. Kerry Black says:

    I’ll vote for Mike Farris, although I had never heard of him prior to his appearance on this site last year.

  3. RDubbs says:

    These are three excellent versions of a truly terrific and important song. The three totally different genres employed make it especially difficult to choose among them. Bragg’s stripped down Dylan-esque homage, Farris’ gospel tent revival plea and The Gits driving pop anthem. Last year when it was mano-a-mano between Bragg and Farris I voted Farris in a very close call. Adding The Gits only made for a more difficult decision. In the end I went with The Gits probably because I’ve heard Bragg’s and Farris’ versions many, many times, whereas having only recently discovering The Gits their version sounds more fresh and alive.

  4. Lucky H says:

    Gits did a great stripped down job with little more than a tele, drums and heartfelt vocals, but had to go with the Farris version … gospel truth!

  5. Lucky H says:

    And of course Billy’s always the man, but he’s already had his fair share of accolades

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