156: Nilsson, ‘Without Her’

Posted by jeff on Mar 20, 2019 in Rock, Song Of the week

The first of two postings on Harry Nilsson–one of the great singers, songwriters, performers, and debauchees of our time.
Tune in next week for the second instalment.

Nilsson – ‘Without Her’

Nilsson – ‘Sleep Late, My Lady Friend’

Nilsson – ‘1941’

Nilsson – ‘Cuddly Toy’

Nilsson – ‘You Can’t Do That’

If you don’t know Harry Nilsson’s music, both as a composer and as a performer, you’re in good company; but you’re missing something rare and fine. John called him his favorite American artist. Paul called him his favorite American group. Jimmy Webb called him the best singer of the generation. Randy Newman compared his melodic talent to that of McCartney, Schuman and Elton John.

Ironically, neither of singer-songwriter Nilsson’s two biggest hits were originals – his beautiful reading of Fred Neil’s beautiful ‘Everybody’s Talking’ and his overblown performance of the Badfinger faux operatic kitsch anthem ‘Without You’.

But they’re not The Point (that was a pun – it’s the name and central metaphor of a full-length children’s cartoon for which he wrote the lovely, whimsical score). The point is that from 1967 Harry Nilsson (he went by his surname only in the beginning) created some of the finest music of the finest era – “Pandemonium Shadow Show”, “Ariel Ballet”, “Harry” and “Nilsson Sings Newman”, and then two more valued by many people other than myself, “Nilsson Schmillson” and “Son of Schmilsson”.

Nilsson then embarked on the fast track to self-destruction till his death at 53. But that’s a different story, one beautifully told in the wonderful 2010 documentary “Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)” by John Schienfeld. Today we’re going to focus on the first step of Nilsson’s career – his almost unknown first album “Pandemonium Shadow Show” and its mythological reception.

Harry Nilsson (1941–1994) grew up with no father – he skipped out when the boy was four, as Nilsson would do to his own son. His mother was an alcoholic. He lived with an uncle till 15, when he set out on his own. These events are related (pun intended) in the song ‘1941’. Here it is in the album version, and here’s the wrenching live version from the 1971 BBC ‘concert’.

Listen to that latter version and think about it for a moment. The song is very much of its time (1967), and timeless. It has a gravitas rarely heard then (we’re talking 1967, a year before the first albums by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Randy Newman), yet it reeks of 1920’s music hall beer (the album version more so). Listen to his voice – three and a half octaves, pure and controlled and expressive.  As Al Kooper said, he has a voice like a trapeze artist – he goes flying through the air with the greatest of ease, defying gravity, calm and fearless. You hold your breath; there’s no net. Will he grab the bar? But it’s not virtuosity for its own sake. It’s the detached third-person voice of the singer/composer expressing his unflinching understanding that his abandonment as a son was repeated in his own failure as a father.

But that’s just one of Nilsson’s many personae. In the beginning of 1967 Nilsson was working nights managing a bank data base (he lied on his application, saying he’d finished high school), writing and pitching songs during the day. An old friend, Chip Douglas, was producing The Monkees. I had heard all the publicity about them, but I didn’t know what they looked like… So I sang seven, eight or nine songs, and Michael Nesmith said, ‘Man, where the fuck did you come from? You just sat down there and blew our minds like that. We’ve been looking for songs, and you just sat down and played an album for us. Shit! Goddammit!’ He threw something on the floor. And he went and got Micky Dolenz and he said to him, ‘Would you listen to this man? Listen to that!’ Micky gave a surprised laugh, and Davy Jones started laughing over one song, and it was like the three of them were just out of their tree. Only Peter Tork couldn’t give a shit.

The Monkees recorded ‘Cuddly Toy’, and Nilsson quit the bank. The super-cuddly Davy Jones sang the tune with utter innocence, including the lyric ‘You’re not the only cherry delight that was left in the night and gave up without a fight.’ When asked if the song wasn’t really describing a gang bang, Nilsson laughed guiltily. “Well, it crossed my mind.” Here’s ‘Cuddly Toy’ from “Pandemonium Shadow Show”.

For our Song of The Week, I had a heck of a time choosing between my two favorite songs on the album, both beautiful love songs impeccably sung to stunningly minimalist arrangements. The one that missed the cruel cut is ‘Sleep Late My Lady Friend’, most of which employs a string bass, cello, hand percussion, and one gravity-defying, undoctored voice. It’s worth listening to over and over. Legend has it that when John Lennon first heard the album he played it consecutively for 36 hours. But we’ll get to that story in just a moment.

Our SoTW is one I’m pleased as punch to be sharing with you, ‘Without Her’, not to be confused with the bombastic ‘Without You’, but the gentle, perfectly understated Nilsson original. The much better known version is from Blood, Sweat and Tears’ great first album “Child is Father to the Man”, with Al Kooper leading the bossa nova interpretation. It’s pleasant enough. But listen to Nilsson sing it accompanied only by electric bass and cello, later joined by a flute and then an acoustic guitar. Tell me this isn’t a gem, a neglected masterpiece. I dare you.

But the legendary cut from the album is called ‘You Can’t Do That’. Yes, the Beatles song. The concept has become popular, but when this was recorded – one week after the release of “Sgt Pepper” – Nilsson was pretty much inventing both multi-multi-tracking of vocals (one critic complained that the backing singers went uncredited) and the mashup. In late 1967 The Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor was in Los Angeles and heard ‘1941’ on the radio. He bought an entire box of copies of “Pandemonium Shadow Show” and sent it to England.

Nilsson, from “Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?)”: One day at five in the morning I got this phone call and there was this voice long-distance, “Hello? Hello? Who is it?” “It’s John.” “John who?” “John Lennon.” “Is this really John?” “Yeah, I just wanted to say you’re fantastic man, we listened to you all weekend, you’re great, great, great. Fantastic” The following Monday I got a phone call from Paul. “How are you? Just calling to say you’re fantastic. You’re really great. We really love what you did and all that stuff. Derek played it for us. Hope to see you soon.” Clunk. The next Monday morning I got up, combed my hair, five o’clock in the morning, waiting for a call from Ringo. There was no call. But he ended up being the best man at our wedding, so that’s ok.

There’s more to the story. It wasn’t long before Nilsson became best friends with both Ringo and John. At the wedding, Nilsson was so stoned on cocaine that Ringo had to help him put the ring on the bride’s finger. In the film, the Smothers Brothers laughingly describe their comeback performance and how their buddies John and Harry were thrown out of the club for disorderly behavior. Theirs was, in the words of one intimate, ‘a friendship made in hell’. But that’s another story.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

085: Randy Newman: ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’
053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’
018 Sir Paul McCartney, ‘Distractions’

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153: Pete Christlieb & Warne Marsh, ‘Magna-Tism’

Posted by jeff on Mar 14, 2019 in Jazz, Song Of the week

Pete Christlieb & Warne Marsh, ‘Magna-Tism’

Caution: This week’s SoTW is going to be more arcane, obscure, elitist, disjointed and soporific than usual, but it’s about a terrific piece of music. So do yourselves a favor: first click on ‘Magna-tism’ by Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh, then go on about your constructive day’s activities.

Where to even begin wagging this shaggy-dog tale? Let’s try it more or less chronologically.

On the fourth day of the Creation, the Big Boy said, “Hey, where’s the light??” There was none! So he made the sun, the moon and the stars. That very moon, as you may know, orbits that very earth in an elliptical pattern. The point at which it’s closest to the earth is its perigee; the furthest point is called its apogee, usually occurring around the 4th of July. The term ‘Apogee’ also refers to the climax or culmination or zenith or pinnacle or acme of something.

Something such as a cutting session between two tenor saxophonists. But we get ahead of ourselves.

In 1946, the obnoxious, gifted, blind Chicago pianist Lennie Tristano moved to New York, gathered a group of very talented and very young musicians around him, and to a great extent invented Cool Jazz, the antithesis to the Charlie Parker over-the-top bebop dominating the scene at the time. In SoTW 27, we discussed Tristano’s incredible live version of ‘Wow!’ The alto saxophonist in that sextet was Lee Konitz, one of the greatest musicians around (still going strong at 85!), whom we’ve written about a number of times; the tenor sax player was Warne Marsh (1927-1987).

Young Warne Marsh

Warne Marsh is not a household name in many households, unless there’s a tenor saxophonist living there. He grew up a rich Hollywood brat, cut his chops in NYC with Tristano, returned to an unsuccessful career as a West Coast Tristano devotee, cleaned pools to support his family, restarted a minor-league career in the 1970s, gained legendary status as a thinking musician’s musician, and died onstage playing ‘Out of Nowhere’. I have about 15 Marsh albums in my collection, and another 20 of him playing with Konitz and with Tristano. As unsuccessful as he was commercially, he shone both as a craftsman and as a thinking musician. He plays innovative, long sinewy lines, always surprising, always interesting, always a joy to listen to. We’ll pay him his due due some other week.

Meanwhile, circa mid-1970s Warne was playing with Pete Christlieb (b. 1945), a young tenor saxist firmly ensconsed in the 1950s West Coast jazz tradition – straightforward, hard-blowing, rhythmic, swinging, open, smooth, fun. Pete was making his living as a studio musician both for popular artists such as Dionne Warwick, Robbie Williams,

Pete Christlieb

Tom Waits, and James Brown, as well as jazz artists such as Freddie Hubbard, Quincy Jones, and Dizzy Gillespie. For years he was the tenor sax player for Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Band, probably the best jazz gig of its type in the West.

One of his most notable session gigs was with Steely Dan (named after a dildo in William Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”). Steely Dan was a primarily studio band led by Walter Becker (b. 1950) and Donald Fagen (b. 1948). They met at Bard College, played together in the backing band of Jay & The Americans (‘Only in America’), then formed one of the most critically and commercially successful musical entities of the 1970s. Their horizons were always art music rather than bashing rock, and they were both steeped in the jazz tradition.

LtR: Steely, Dan

Here’s ‘Deacon Blues’ from their 1977 album “Aja”, featuring Pete Christlieb on tenor. “I’ll learn to work the saxophone/I’ll play just what I feel/Drink Scotch whisky all night long/And die behind the wheel.”

In 1978, Becker et Fagen exploited their status to produce a album by Christlieb et Marsh for a major label (Warner Brothers), clearly a labor of love rather than a commercial venture. The album’s called “Apogee”, and it is one.

The format of two tenor saxes has a rich tradition, primarily as ‘cutting sessions’, the jazz equivalent of the Wild West gun duel.  Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons all cut their chops in these showdowns. Here’s Paul Quinchette taking on John Coltrane in the 1957 ‘Cattin’, written and accompanied here by the great Mal Waldron. Here’s ‘Brandy and Beer’ by Al Cohn and Zoot Sims from the same year (with Mose Allison on piano!).

Front line, LtR: Marsh, Christlieb

We’ll talk about Mose Allison another time soon, but right now we’re going to finally get to our point – the opening cut on “Apogee”, ‘Magna-Tism’, a dynamite, thrilling arrangement by Joe Roccisano (1939-1997).

‘Magna-Tism’ is written by Christlieb, essentially a reworking of ‘Just Friends’, a classic written by John Klenner and Samuel M. Lewis in 1931 for Red McKenzie & His Orchestra, with more versions over the years than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill. Here’s Lee Konitz doing it in 1974.

Warne Marsh

On ‘Magna-Tism’, 33-year old Christlieb takes the first solo – in-your-face, muscular, brashly brassy. Then Marsh takes his turn. He’s 51 at the time of the recording, but with four times that much musical experience – wily, winding, wending, wise, westrained, a wondrous example of the Tristano-school epithet: “Ice also burns.” Then they join together in tandem and in unison for a no-bars held tour-de-force chorus, a great double-tracked arrangement.

It’s fine, fun, ass-kicking jazz, and Steely & Dan deserve a lot of credit for facilitating this album. But if you want to hear two saxophonists make this sound like it’s sitting still, check out Tristano/Konitz/Marsh on the 1949 live ‘Wow’. Still, that detracts nothing from this terrific “Apogee” album.

I’m guessing you might want to hear a bit more from the album. Here’s ‘Rapunzel’, written by Fagen and Becker, a bebop composition based on ‘In the Land of Make Believe’ (Bacharach-David). Here’s their take on ‘Donna Lee’, the Charlie Parker classic (here by Bird himself). And here’s their Tristano composition ‘317 E.32nd’, one of my very very very favorite jazz pieces. Here it is by the Tristano/Konitz/Marsh quintet.  But that’s a whole ‘nother story.


If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

119: Tom Harrell, ‘Train Shuffle’
094: Brad Mehldau, ‘Martha, My Dear’ (“Live in Marciac”)
037: Lee Konitz, ‘Alone Together’ (w. Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau)


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155: Buddy Holly, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’

Posted by jeff on Mar 7, 2019 in Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Buddy Holly – It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

The kids in our mailroom have been on strike now for two days over the massive overload caused by the overflow of letters from readers speculating over The Question That Has The World On The Edge Of Its Figurative Chair: the third and climactic final of that iconic triptych, Spookily Existential Posthumous Hit Records (SEPHR).

We told you about how Otis Redding recorded ‘(Sitting on) The Dock of a Bay’ three weeks before he died in a plane crash.

We told you about how Sam Cooke released ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ weeks before he was shot in a seedy motel in unsavory circumstances.

SoTW mailroom this week

We’re going to skip all the SEPHR runners-up: Hank Williams’ ‘I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive’; Chuck Willis’ two-sided hit ‘Hang Up My Rock ‘n’ Roll Shoes’ b/w ‘What Am I Living For’; and Eva Cassidy’s ‘What a Wonderful World’). We’ll skip right to the final member of our morbid trilogy. The envelope, please.

This week we’re going to share the story of Buddy Holly’s last recording session and the song ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, recorded in October 1958 and released in January 1959, exactly a month before ‘the day the music died’.

Show of Stars, including The Crickets

My admiration for Buddy Holly (1936-1959) is immeasurable. I’ve written about his influence on the Beatles and the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones (SoTW 70, ‘That’ll Be the Day’), about his originality (SoTW 122, ‘You’re The One’), and about his stunningly beautiful music (SoTW 2, ‘Learning the Game’). If I may quote myself, I wrote in one of them “Could be I invented Song of The Week just to have a platform to sing Buddy Holly’s praises.”

I think he’s one of the finest artists in popular music, period. I’m not alone in that appraisal. Bruce Springsteen: “I play Buddy Holly every night before I go on – it keeps me honest.” Buddy Holly was the John Keats of rock and roll, a pure artist, with an innocent, disinterested aesthetic. Keats (1795-1820) lived to the age of 25, but was too sick with tuberculosis to write for the last year and a half of his life. Buddy Holly’s life was truncated at 23 in a plane crash on February 3, 1959.

(Back of the bus) Paul Anka, Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly made his money travelling by bus on endless one-night Rock and Roll tours with the likes of Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Dion and the Belmonts, and wunderkind Paul Anka (b. 1941). By the age of 17 he already had a remarkable string of self-penned hits, including ‘Diana,’ ‘Puppy Love,’ ‘Put Your Head on My Shoulder,’ and ‘You Are My Destiny.’ Okay, they’re not ‘Blowing in the Wind’ or ‘All My Loving’, but give the kid credit; he was one of the first singers to write his own material.

But he was a pill. Nikki Sullivan, Buddy Holly’s rhythm guitarist: “Paul was a brat. All the time he was getting into trouble, or doing something wrong. He just couldn’t sit still–a thousand, billion volts of energy. We were onstage in St. Louis, and Paul was horsing around backstage when he kicked the microphone plug out of the floor and all the mikes went dead. We just stood there onstage, helpless. It was just a few minutes, but it seemed like three or four days until the microphones got plugged back in and we could start over. At this point, Buddy was boiling up inside, just ready to explode. When we walked off, the clapping stopped the minute we got offstage, into the curtains–it wasn’t a very long clap. So it’s totally quiet, and the MC is walking out on to the stage to introduce the next act, and Buddy yells, ‘Who in the hell kicked out the goddamn plug?’ It rang throughout the auditorium. He calmed down after a bit and went back to the room, and later Paul Anka came back and apologized. And in fact, from that incident, Buddy and Paul became very close, and even rehearsed a few songs together from then on.”

LtoR: Buddy Holly, Paul Anka, Jerry Lee Lewis

Anka asked Holly if he’d record a song he’d written. “Sure, why not, let me see it,” said Buddy. “Oh, but it’s not finished yet. I’ll bring it to you when I’m done with it,” said Paul.

Buddy Holly’s final recording session was his first and only with strings, October 21, 1958. Anka finally finished the song and brought it to Buddy on the very day of that session. Buddy quickly learned it from him and ran to Dick Jacobs, the arranger/producer. Holly played it on guitar and sang it, and Jacobs worked out a quick arrangement. Dick Jacobs: “I had no time to harmonize the violins or write intricate parts, so I wrote them all pizzicato. That was the most unplanned thing I have ever written in my life.” (Pizzicato means ‘plucked’, for all you who don’t speak Italian or Music.)

Four songs were recorded: the lightweight ‘Moondreams’; the lush ‘True Love Ways’ (a college friend said on hearing it for the first time, ‘A girl could get pregnant just listening to that’); the wondrous, heart-wrenching ‘Raining in My Heart’; and ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’.

Three weeks later, Buddy recorded ‘You’re the One’ in a radio studio back home in Lubbock, Texas. In December, he recorded six songs in his New York apartment, including his compositions ‘Learning the Game’, ‘What to Do’, and ‘That Makes it Tough’.  Buddy was 22 and a half when he recorded these songs. At that age, John Lennon was recording “Love Me, Do”, and Dylan had recorded one album of original material.

On January 5, the single of ‘Raining in My Heart’ b/w ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ was released. A month later, Buddy Holly was dead.

I can’t say ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ presents any earthshaking ontological or eschatological world view. After all, it was written by the 17-year old Paul Anka. But I think a case could be made to draw a line from it to ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ via ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’: “With all due pain and regret, screw you, honey.”

But there isn’t much music that affects me as strongly as this song does. Back in the days when I played guitar, it brought me to tears more than once.

There are a number of noteworthy covers. Here’s Paul Anka telling the back-story and singing it at a Buddy Holly tribute. Here’s Linda Ronstadt singing it early on in her career, and here she is ten years later. I sure wish she’d kept those boom-chukka drums out of the arrangement, because it’s fine up till then. Eva Cassidy showed better taste in her impeccable treatment.

But of course we’ll always go back to the original, the utterly honest Buddy Holly version, with all its helplessness and hopelessness, regret and resignation, passion and pain.

There you go and baby here am I.
Well, you left me here so I could sit and cry
Golly gee, what have you done to me?
Well I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.

Do you remember baby, last September
How you held me tight each and every night?
Oh baby how you drove me crazy,
But I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.

There’s no use in me a-cryin’.
I’ve done everything
And now I’m sick of trying.
I’ve thrown away my nights
Wasted all my days over you.

Now you go your way baby and I’ll go mine
Now and forever ’till the end of time
And I’ll find somebody new and baby
We’ll say we’re through
And you won’t matter anymore.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy:

002: Buddy Holly, ‘Learning the Game’
070: Buddy Holly, ‘That’ll Be the Day’
122: George Harrison (The Beatles), ‘You Know What to Do’ b/w Buddy Holly, ‘You’re the One’

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152: Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’

Posted by jeff on Feb 28, 2019 in Rock, Rock and Roll, Song Of the week

Sam Cooke, ‘A Change is Gonna Come’

Sam Cooke, smiling

As promised, we’ve embarked on a visit to three “spookily existential posthumous hits”. Last week we visited Otis Redding, an artist I’m still learning to fully appreciate, and ‘(Sitting on) The Dock of a Bay’, which he recorded 18 days before he was killed.

This week, we’re going to pay homage to an artist I’ve long held in the highest esteem, Sam Cooke, and to his universally acclaimed Civil Rights anthem ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, recorded a year before his death but released only posthumously.

We’ve written several times about Sam Cooke (1931-1964) – about his gospel roots, his crossover to rhythm and blues (for example, SoTW 048, ‘Bring It on Home to Me’); his success as a genteel creator of pop hits (SoTW 136, ‘Wonderful World’); and his incredible talent as a singer (SoTW 120, ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’).


In 1963, Cooke was at the top of his game–hits galore, successful nightclub and concert gigs, and a major-league shmuck manager (Allen Klein, later of Beatles infamy), the highest-earning black entertainer in the world. But while on tour (which he did non-stop to keep away from his crumbling marriage), his 18 month old son, Vincent, drowned in their front yard pool. Sam blamed Mrs Barbara Cooke, and sank into depression, requesting that no one wear black to the child’s funeral.

According to his biographer, Cooke had been profoundly affected by Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ (a hit at the time for Peter, Paul and Mary), moved that such a poignant song about racism in America could come from someone who was not black. While on tour in May 1963, and after speaking with sit-in demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina following a concert, Cooke returned to his tour bus and wrote the first draft of what would become “A Change Is Gonna Come”. Then in October 1963, he was arrested and thrown in jail after refusing to be turned away from a Shreveport, La., hotel which had initially accepted his reservation.

Scene of the crime (the one shoe not visible)

He recorded ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ on December 21, 1963 (arrangement by René Hall), a month after Kennedy’s assassination. But Klein kept it under wraps for a year, till it was finally released as the B-side of a vibrant single, ‘Shake’ (which we heard last week in Otis Redding’s version). The original version of ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was shortened by 30 seconds for the single, deleting the most explicitly anti-segregation verse: I go to the movie and I go downtown/Somebody keep telling 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.

Apparently Sam wasn’t finished twisting the night away, because on December 11, 1964, he took a hooker to his motel room. When he stumbled into the bathroom (highly intoxicated), she grabbed her clothes, his clothes and his cash and ran off. She either did or didn’t stop in the motel office, but Sam was convinced she was hiding there. He barged in, clad in the only clothes Ms Elisa Boyer had left (a sport jacket and one shoe). He vociferously demanded an explanation from the manager, Ms Bertha Franklin. There was a struggle, during which Ms Boyer shot and killed Cooke. The verdict was justifiable homicide. Of course, other versions are rife, including even a conspiracy theory. Cooke was 33.

Ms Boyer at inquest

‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was only a moderate hit at the time, but it was quickly adopted as an anthem by the Civil Rights movement, recorded and performed by everyone. Its status continues to grow today, despite the fact that Allen Klein refuses to allow the use of the original. Rolling Stone ranked it #12 in its list of 500 greatest songs, and ‘the Greatest Soul Song Ever’.

It was selected by the Library of Congress as one of twenty-five selected recordings for the National Recording Registry. Here’s a nice NRP program on the song, including Aretha Franklin saying “Sam Cooke, bar none, was one of the greatest singers of all time.” Here’s Aretha’s own very beautiful version of ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. Here’s another very gospel treatment by Patti LaBelle.

Miss Kentuckey, Djuan Trent

The song has had more cover versions than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill, so we’ll just give you a little sampling. Here’s Otis Redding. Here’s Aaron Neville. Here are The Righteous Brothers. Here’s Tina Turner. Here’s Bob Dylan (how’s that for irony?–the wheel’s still in spin), and here’s The Band. Here’s James Taylor’s version, first time ever on the internet.

Here’s Seal. He tied his cover of the song to Barack Obama’s statement in his 2008 victory speech “change has come to America.” Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi performed this song at President Obama’s inauguration celebration. In case you didn’t notice, she’s black and he’s white and they’re both EQUAL-ly soulful and passionate. Gee, do you think there might be a message hiding there?


‘A Change is Gonna Come’ was performed in the 2011 Miss America Pageant by Miss Kentucky, Djuan Trent, during which she maintained that her grandparents wrote the song.  It was even performed in the finals of American Idol by Adam Lambert, provoking “ervin” of Indianapolis to write: “when i first heard this song it was on “American Idol” i really think that this song has alot of meaning. i started to cry because i felt where the song was coming from. just the title made me think. the song makes me think. this song is whats hot i would put this on my mp3 player”

But it’s not Sam’s fault that ervin was inspired to think (and to cry). It’s enough to make you think that perhaps Allen Klein had the right idea, to keep the song under wraps, because ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ really is too noble to be performed on American Idol. But it’s in the public domain, and we’ll just have to live with that. Because we don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky. And because we need music like this to remind us just how difficult it is for any man, black or white or plaid, to maintain his dignity in this world.

Sam Cooke, not smiling

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, 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 telling 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 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 gonna come, oh yes it will.

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