Today’s artist had been working as a staff songwriter for years with no luck getting a record deal. With his attempts to appeal to popular taste falling short, he decided to make a demo of songs in his own jazzy style and included this song. He eventually signed with RCA because they offered him creative freedom. They were rewarded when this song and the album became huge hits.
The song was inspired by his upbringing in Virginia. He said, "When I was brought up, the vibe I got of Martin Luther King in my town was that he was a real evil man - just the vibe in the air, that he was terrible. And if you grow up in that environment you can't help but be affected by it a little bit. Luckily, I came from a family that guarded us against that conservatism, but sure, I grew up in the thick of all that bad feeling."
As a result, the song deals with the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. The line in the lyrics that mentions "The law passed in '64" is the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law was supposed to prohibit discrimination in public places, the government and employment.
It was a song grown-ups loved and their kids could tolerate, reaching the top of both the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. The song earned an afterlife when Tupac sampled it for his song "Changes."
Today’s song is a very unusual hit: it lacks a big chorus, catchy hooks and most other hallmarks of top forty chart-toppers. It has a consistent tempo and a jazzy sound, which appealed to a more adult audience and added some welcome diversity to Top 40 playlists that were dominated by uptempo, synth-driven songs.