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2008.11.12

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Marty! Wow! Best article from you yet! Coincidently, I've long felt "A Change is Gonna Come" is the best song ever written! lol

I think the problem with the old G.O.A.T. argument is artists are trying to accomplish different things with different songs. Did James Brown want to accomplish what he did with "Funky Drummer?" (i.e. lay the foundation for rap music - and by extension - the pop culture of the late 20th century?) No, probably not. He was just making a song because it's what he did. On the other hand, did Cooke write a song to encapsulate the growth of black civil rights and inspire optimism? Yes, he did. Is there a way to compare the two? No, I don't think there is.

With the album thing, you then add the element of quantifying if someone can be great over an extended piece of work as opposed to getting lucky for 3 minutes. On the other hand, maybe someone accomplished what they were trying to do for 3 minutes and just missed the mark for the other 47?

As far as Cooke's "Change," I don't think Obama redefined it as anything. "Change" was always about Cooke's belief progress had been made and would continue to be made. Obama isn't the end of that belief, he's just another step forward on the journey Cooke thought was going to happen. Also, Cooke recorded the song under tremendous pressure, breaking the mold he had as a love song, hit writer and writing a song about political unrest. The song is a testament to the power of art and the power of one voice with something to say.

Yeah, this is fucking gold.

Hey, thanks guys.

Kenny, I actually think that there is a way to compare "Funky Drummer" and "A Change Is Gonna Come"--and that's to put a value to what they actually accomplished. It gets tricky when comparing legitimately great songs like those, because you have to take into account your view of what's important. It gets a little easier when you try to compare "Funky Drummer" to, say, Creed's "My Own Prison." I'm sure you'd stipulate that Creed accomplished exactly what they set out to do with that song, but that doesn't necessarily make it worth anything.

I don't necessarily think that Obama's speech changed the meaning of Cooke's song, but it definitely changed/amplified the meaning of the song in relation to history. And that's stunning. That's what may have skyrocketed it to its position as the G.O.A.T.

Great essay, Marty! You've done Cooke & Obama proud! :)

I was playing Sam's song a lot in the days leading up to the election -- and played it about six times in a row when they called Virginia and the election was in the bag. But it's a song that I've warmed up to gradually over the last couple years... Initially, I found its arrangement overbearing without being truly epic. It felt like a pop singer trying to make a big statement and falling short. The narratives I read about it (about Sam composing it as a response to a white man writing "Blowin' in the Wind"), and the fact that I'd never heard of it until I bought a Sam Cooke record, gave me the impression that it was basically a B-list anthem, behind a few Dylan songs but also behind "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," "We Shall Overcome," "Imagine," "What's Going On," "Respect," etc.

My thinking started to change when I saw Malcolm X for the first time this year. Like most songs in Spike Lee joints, it's used to devastating effect.

I still don't think of it as a top-tier song in terms of popularity -- and I think that disqualifies it from being Song of the Century -- but it does strike me as eminently appropriate for Obama's victory. I wouldn't be surprised if Obama confessed a longtime admiration for Cooke; they share a sort of classy swagger, confident in their own cool but also genuinely sweet, likable, and serious (like Cosby years later, Sam took care of busine$$). It's the kind of black-man-to-white-audience crossover that appeals to our best nature, with a smile and a smooth performance...

Great article, Marty.
I have to express my sadness over the sort of "death" of the album, though. Not that I'm a purist. I love my Ipod, and I love choosing to hear the songs I want to hear in the order I want to hear them. But I am nostalgic about the first time I played Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (yes, on a record player in my basement).
I listened from start to finish -- flipping the album, of course, when it was time. Listening to that felt like eating a full meal. I felt accomplished after my first listen! And I also felt like I had just opened the portal to a new world and had so much to learn. And, honestly, I'm not some big Pink Floyd fan, but that experience comes to mind when I think about the "art" in putting together an album.
But since we all can shuffle our Ipods, or only listen to what we want to, why should an artist go to the trouble of really fleshing out an overall story to be told, or vibe to be communicated through the set-up of songs on their album? I get it, totally. But I feel a little bit of pity for the kids who won't get to experience what I experienced through listening to an entire Album.
Damn, I sound like some kinda old-timer, don't I?

Oops...that was me commenting, Marty. Forgot my name.
And let me just add real quick:
I realize that albums aren't really "dead", that people will be putting them out -- full length CDs-- as usual. Its just that they are more like song collections than albums. ;)

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