Rolling Stone now calls “A Change Is Gonna Come” one of the greatest songs of all time, but in 1964 its political message was a risky maneuver. Cooke had worked hard to be accepted as a crossover artist after building a sizable following on the gospel circuit. And the first thing to know about the song, Cooke biographer Peter Guralnick says, is that it’s unlike anything the singer had ever recorded.
“His first success came with the song 'You Send Me.’ I mean, this was his first crossover number under his own name, and it went to No. 1 on the pop charts, which was just unheard of,” Guralnick says. “As he evolved as a pop singer, he brought more and more of his gospel background into his music, as well as his social awareness, which was keen. But really, 'A Change Is Gonna Come’ was a real departure for him, in the sense that it was undoubtedly the first time that he addressed social problems in a direct and explicit way.”