Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan both share a spot in the music history books. However, when it comes to the anthemic ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ the two musical behemoths share a link that stretches beyond the sphere of influence that they propagated. They were artists who used their talents to spring change, and nothing says that quite like the transcendent link between the two.
When discussing the civil rights another ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ with the BBC, L.C. Cooke, Sam’s younger brother and musical collaborator remarked: “I know you know ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ by Bob Dylan. Sam always said a black man should’ve wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, it was unfair, so he said ‘Nah, if he can write a song like that surely, I can come up with something equally as good’, so he sat down to write ‘A Change Gonna Come’.”
He then lovingly continues to comment: “He was trying to write an anthem to compete with ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ is a great song, so he sat down to write ‘I was born by the river’.” And just like a river, the song was in motion long before Bob Dylan’s introspective lyricism began making waves.
The track embodies both the social movement up until that point, but also the weaving diegesis of Cooke’s life. Perhaps the most prominent confluence being when, after a sold-out show performing to a worshipful crowd, Cooke and his entourage were turned away from a whites-only motel in Louisiana.
This was an injustice that Dylan had also witnessed as he toured the roads of America with fellow musicians. The song tackles, among many other things, the issue of racial divides in America. Dylan would go on to perform the song at Martin Luther King Jr. rallies in a bid to embody the heart of the movement musically, just as Cooke had tried with his own interpellation.
This link is surely in the welter of the myriad elements that make Sam Cooke’s cover soar so wildly it was in danger of taking Sputnik out of orbit. Bob Dylan is undoubtedly one of the most covered artists in history, beginning almost from the very moment he started to release music and set the walls of Greenwich Village folk clubs blazing.
There are plenty of renditions of this historic track, Peter, Paul & Mary being the most widely favoured, but Sam Cooke’s is the definitive version for us. It hangs in the air like the smell of ancient perfume, never truly leaving once you’ve heard its fragrance, and it conjures memories just as readily.
As far as Dylan covers go, it’s perhaps our favourite because Cooke turns the song into an unbridled bop without losing any of the scathing sincerity. Using his perfect soul vocal, Cooke selects the jazziest moments and toe-tapping lines to eventuate. Perfect listening.