He said it's been a long time comin'
Aretha Franklin - 'A Change Is Gonna Come' (I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You - 1967
I've tried to avoid contrasting closing tracks with opening tracks so far on The Run Out Grooves, but this time, it feels tough not to. Aretha Franklin's 1967 album, I've Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, was her tenth, but it was her first for Atlantic Records. By this point, the shackles were well and truly coming off, and within 18 months, she'd deliver Lady Soul and Aretha Now, too, as she made the transition from gospel to soul music.
The opening track is one of the most famous songs in the history of popular music; A cover of Otis Redding's 'Respect' that was recently ordained by Rolling Stone magazine as the greatest song of all time. For Franklin to take a piece from a performer like Otis Redding and make it her own is quite something. Where our focus is, on the closing track, she arguably falls just short of doing it again.
It was often said of Franklin, The Queen of Soul, that God came out when she opened her mouth to sing. By March 1967, Sam Cooke had already died1- so covering his signature song 'A Change is Gonna Come' was something that Franklin did as not just a tribute but as close as you can imagine to a eulogy for the soul singer - It is almost an act of public mourning.
I find this rendition fascinating because Franklin begins almost like she is quoting from Cooke's version, adding an introduction as well additions of "he said" early on. She starts to colour in some of the gaps that Cooke left in his performance of the song, adlibbing more as we move through successive sections. By the time we get to the bridge, those lead-ins are gone, the narrator's pronouns change, and the song dramatically switches to a less faithful rendition as Franklin takes on the narrator's identity rather than projecting it to her late idol.
She's also clearly preaching here; as much as she'd started to leave gospel songs behind at this stage in her career, she's not left the performance element go, and you can hear her black Baptist roots clearly throughout 'A Change Is Gonna Come.'
Matching Cooke's version would be impressive - surpassing it a miracle, and I think she wasn't far off. By the end of the song, she has taken such ownership of it that she starts singing that the change has come. Maybe you might think that's a stretch looking back from 2021. Still, in the two and a bit years between Cooke's death and this version of the song, change had started to come for Black America, slowly but surely - Cooke died before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had come into force. While the road ahead was to become rocky (I Never Loved A Man... was released before the riots of summer 1967 and chaos of 1968.), it wasn't just the hippies of Portobello Road or Haight-Ashbury who had reasons for optimism going into The Summer of Love.
Otis Redding didn’t die until later in 1967 so was able to hear Franklin’s definitive version of his song.