Ain’t That Good News by Sam Cooke


Pete and I should have got back from our USA holiday last week. I’m really gutted that it had to be cancelled. In the past we have had 5 holidays travelling from coast to coast, playing Bob Dylan and The Beatles on the stereo, seeing great sights and meeting some truly wonderful people, especially his friends from San Francisco. Almost without exception, everyone we spoke to on the East Coast, the Mid West, the South or The West Coast was very friendly and couldn’t do enough to help us and make us feel welcome.

I don’t feel qualified to write anything sensible about the unrest that is currently erupting into protest and violence in the USA at the moment. My friend Mark has sent round two links which say it all, really. One is a Nelson Mandela quote:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

The other thing that Mark sent round is a link to this video. It’s really clever and says nothing that any sane person could disagree with.

It got me to thinking about whether I am racist. I mean, I know that’s a shocking thing to write and I really hope I’m not but it worries me that being brought up in a middle class London borough in the late Fifties and early Sixties, there may be some racist instincts lurking within me. I’ve just been reading round this rather sensitive topic and I’ve seen something that I think describes things very well. We are all familiar with the phrase “you are what you eat” but maybe we should change this to “you are who you meet”. I only ever met middle class white people until I went to University when I was 18.

Here’s what Helen Jamieson wrote: “Being called a racist in this day and age is probably, for most, a significant sleight on their integrity, professionalism, fair mindedness, their character. If someone asked you today if you are a racist what would you reply? I’m guessing 99.9% of the population would give a big fat “No”. Of course, you’d say no because if you say yes, you’re a horrible, uneducated, unprofessional, nasty, dinosaur-like person who deserves to be hounded out of your job. Persona non grata in this modern diverse world. But what if I tell you that we’re all racist? Like it or not, 99.99% of us, at least from my observations across 5 decades, are racist.”

Here’s what Mona Chalabi wrote in The Guardian a few years ago: “Everyone – of whatever colour – is racist. I’ve seen how our brains have a tendency to automatically associate our own race with good and other races with bad, whoever we are.”

So how many records do I own by black musicians? How many of these blogs have been centred on black artists? It’s all very well me pontificating on about equality but how racist are my musical tastes? The answer is not very reassuring I’m afraid. All I can say in my defence is that acknowledging a problem is a first step in solving the problem.

The first track on side 2 of “Ain’t That Good News” is “A Change Is Gonna Come”.

Rolling Stone wrote this about the song: “In 1963, Sam Cooke heard a song that profoundly inspired and disturbed him: Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” What struck Cooke was the challenge implicit in Dylan’s anthem. “Jeez,” Cooke mused, “a white boy writing a song like that? “Cooke’s response, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” recorded on January 30th, 1964, with a sumptuous orchestral arrangement by Rene Hall, was more personal — in its first-person language and the experiences that preceded its creation. On October 8th, 1963, while on tour, Cooke and members of his entourage were arrested in Shreveport, Louisiana, for disturbing the peace after they tried to register at a white motel — an incident reflected in the song’s third verse. And Cooke’s mourning for his 18-month-old son, Vincent, who drowned that June, resonates in the last verse: ‘There have been times that I thought/I couldn’t last for long.'”

There’s a fascinating account of this song on Wikipedia. Cooke first performed “A Change Is Gonna Come” on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on February 7, 1964. Cooke’s new manager, Allen Klein, was infatuated with the song and persuaded Cooke to do away with promoting his most recent single, “Ain’t That Good News”, and perform “Change” instead, feeling that that was the statement he needed to make before a national audience. Cooke objected, noting that the album’s release was a month away and that he had no time to pull together an arrangement within such a short time frame. Klein arranged for RCA to pay for a full string section and Cooke performed the song that Friday on The Tonight Show after performing “Basin Street”. Klein felt it would become a milestone moment in Cooke’s career, but it was overshadowed by the Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show two days later. The song was issued on March 1 as a track on Cooke’s album “Ain’t That Good News”. It would not be issued as a single for another nine months. Cooke elected not to perform “A Change Is Gonna Come” again in his lifetime, both because of the complexity of the arrangement and because of the ominous nature of the song. When shown to his protégé Bobby Womack, his response was that it sounds “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.” In December, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was prepared for single release, with the verse and chorus preceding the bridge (“I go to the movies…”) deleted for radio airplay. The civil rights movement picked up on “A Change Is Gonna Come” with near immediacy. On December 11, 1964, two weeks before the song was released, Sam Cooke was fatally shot at a Los Angeles motel.

After winning the 2008 United States presidential election, Barack Obama referred to the song, stating to his supporters in Chicago, “It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, change has come to America.”

This is a great record. There are several other highlights apart from “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Here’s the review from “AllMusic”

The last of his studio albums released in his lifetime, Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That Good News” offers a lot of superb material, pointing in several directions that, alas, were to go largely unexplored. The central number is, of course, the earth-shattering “A Change Is Gonna Come,” with its soaring gospel sound and the most elaborate production of any song in Cooke’s output. The rousing though less substantial title track also came out of a gospel tradition, as does Cooke’s treatment of “Tennessee Waltz,” which is one of his finest adaptations of contemporary pop material. “Falling in Love” was the work of Harold Battiste, an old friend of Cooke’s who had recently re-entered his orbit and was partly responsible for encouraging the singer in exploring the New Orleans sound that was evident on “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day” and “Meet Me at Mary’s Place.” And then there’s “Good Times,” a bittersweet, introspective party number, and the pensive successor to “Twistin’ the Night Away.” There are a few moments where the spell is almost broken by the intrusion of what seems like pop material, but even Cooke’s version of “The Riddle Song” is worth owning as a glimpse at how he could turn a folk song into a something so quietly soulful that its origins disappeared. With the exception of “Another Saturday Night,” which had been released as a single early in the previous year, Ain’t That Good News comprised the first material that Cooke had recorded in the six months following the drowning death of his 18-month-old son Vincent; it was also the first album that Cooke recorded and released under his new contract, which gave him greater freedom in choosing repertory and sidemen than he’d ever had, and so it offered a lot of pent-up emotional and musical expression, and, as it turned out, was tragically unique in the singer’s output.”

I was born by the river in a little tent
And just like that river I’ve been running ever since

It’s been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cos I don’t know what’s out there beyond the sky

I go to the movie and I go down town
Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around

And then I go to see my brother
And I ask him to help me please
And he just winds up knockin’ me
Back down on my knees

There were times when I thought I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
Cos I don’t know what’s out there beyond the sky

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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