The picture on the cover of CHANGE IS GONNA COME will need no explanation for any Ace or Kent fan over the age of 50. We all grew up in a world where such sights were brought to our attention by the world’s media resources, via the nightly news or now-long-vanished cinema newsreels. Few who saw them ‘as new’ will ever be able to get out of their minds the appalling images of white American policemen and soldiers turning fire hoses and night sticks loose on smartly-dressed young black Americans, who were doing nothing more than staking a claim on their basic human rights. Here in the UK, we certainly knew what a ‘race riot’ was, but there were no laws that governed the social treatment of any man or woman based solely on the colour of their skin. It was somehow all the more shocking to those of us who cared that these images were coming from a land that most looked to as the place we’d most like to live in, given the choice.
Of course, the BBC’s News regularly reported such goings on with its customary lack of bias, and usually without any deeper analysis of what lay behind them. A far more insightful analysis was regularly provided on vinyl by an ever increasing selection of black American artists who felt the need to sing about something more important and relevant than the tribulations of a broken heart or a terminated romance.
“Change Is Gonna Come” brings together almost two dozen examples of the way black America put the iniquity of racial inequality in the ears of the world. When most of these recordings were made, records were the only way that the message could get ‘out there’ in an unbiased and largely uncensored manner. There were no TV stations aimed exclusively at the black population of America, while even those radio stations that were black-owned had to keep their presentation largely neutral – some might say neutered – for fear of upsetting the advertisers that kept their staff in gainful employment. Only througb the medium of recorded sound could the world stay honestly appraised of the way the black Americans – and, particularly, those who lived in the most heavily segregated sections of the American South – were feeling about their enforced status as ‘second class citizens’.
There are many more records that the finite playing time of a CD does not permit us to include. But “Change Is Gonna Come” strives to provide a valuable audio commentary on how it must have felt for the many millions of black Americans who had to sit at the back of the bus, whether they wanted to or not, and who could hope to achieve little more out of life than to be the ‘kid who’s washing cars’ from the Drifters’ irony-heavy version of Only In America. There are virtually no positives to take from the way that the people who these songs speak for were treated back then – just the fact that, as you will hear, their plight resulted in some fantastic music.
File under “uneasy listening”…
By Tony Rounce