“You know a force from heaven. You know something that God made. And Aretha is a gift from God.” (Rolling Stone – The 100 Greatest Singers) “Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music …more than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged..“() “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.” (Aretha Franklin) This album features one of the all time popular female artists to have ever recorded on the Atlantic label and, she rightly wore the crown as the Queen of Soul.
This is a tribute to Aretha Franklin and this compilation album is just one of so many released by her and it is rightly titled – The Best Of.
The album was released on the vinyl format in 1984 on the Atlantic label and it has the identifying code of 81280-1 and has 12 magnificent tracks and it really represents some of her absolute best work.
Aretha Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis Tennessee. She was the fourth of five children of a Baptist preacher and a gospel singer. She was born a prodigy and as the world quickly learned, she was a gifted pianist with a powerful voice.
Her father was a baptist preacher, Clarence La Vaughan “C.L.” Franklin, and her mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin, was a regular soloist in the church. Franklin often sang in front of her father’s Detroit congregation.
By the age of 14 she had recorded some of her earliest tracks at the church. She also performed with C.L.’s traveling revival show and while on tour, she befriended gospel greats such as Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward.
While her life on the road taught her that she had to grow up quickly, in at least one regard that process meant she was part of many adult behaviours at a very young age. At 12 years of age she had her first child and by 15 years of age, she had her second.
With her father’s blessing, Franklin traveled to New York in 1960. After being courted by several labels, including Motown and RCA, she signed with Columbia Records. Aretha then released The Great Aretha Franklin for the label that same year.
In 1961, the single “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody” hit No. 37 on the pop charts. Aretha had a few top 10 singles on the R&B charts, but they failed to promote the talent that she had shown in her gospel music. It was after a few more disappointments that she and new husband and manager, Ted White ,decided a move was in order and Franklin moved to the Atlantic label in 1967. The young Aretha in the Atlantic studio
Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler immediately sensed a real talent and he shuttled her to the studios at the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium and thus began an extraordinary recording career.
Now she was working with musicians that really had talent. Paired with sidemen trained in soul, blues, rock and gospel—including session guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, Aretha recorded the single I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You). In the midst of recording sessions, her husband Ted White quarrelled with a member of the backing band, and White and Franklin left abruptly.
As the single became a massive top 10 hit, Franklin re-emerged in New York and was able to complete the partially recorded track, Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.Listening to a session playback at Atlantic [Jerry Wexler rear right]
Then between 1967 and 1968 she forever cemented her place as the Queen of Soul recording and releasing a range of hits all of which became enduring classics including, but not limited to Respect, Chain of Fools, Think and I Say A Little Prayer.
During the 1970’s she had some success but changes in music and tastes began to take a toll and she slipped down the charts and may have fallen into oblivion, if not for a cameo role in the 1980 movie – The Blues Brothers which thrust her back into the consciousness of many who were reminded just how brilliant she was.
She departed Atlantic in 1979.
From that time on right through until her death, and probably for future years, she reigns and will continue to reign supreme as the Queen of Soul.
In her years prior to moving to and recording at Atlantic [1960 – 1967] her highest charting track was in 1961, with Operation Heartbreak, the B-side of a single that reached number 6. The move to Atlantic saw her record no less than 17 number one singles and many others reaching number two.
Her first commercial #1 being I Never Loved A Man in 1967 and the last being Break It To Me Gently in 1967. During her time at Atlantic she released a staggering 57 singles, 19 studio albums, 3 live albums and 8 compilations, with this album, The Best of Aretha Franklin, being released after she left.
So what tracks are there on this album?Side 1 1. Chain Of Fools 2. I Say A Little Prayer 3. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman 4. Think 5. Rock Steady 6. Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)
Side 2 1. Respect 2. Spanish Harlem 3. Dr. Feelgood 4. Do Right Woman – Do Right Man 5. I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) 6. Save Me
Before I start looking at a few of the tracks, I must say it is disappointing that they haven’t been sequenced in some sort of logical manner, such as in order of date recorded.
If there is some logic it has by-passed me. Let’s pick up on track one – Chain Of Fools which was recorded in 1967 during a very hectic first year at Atlantic. The song was written by Don Covay (of Mercy, Mercy, and Pony Time fame) and is one of her Atlantic singles that featured on many of her albums.
It reached the #2 position in the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues chart. With guitar played by Joe South it is a fabulous example of her ability to sing R&B and yet make it her own. The great guitar work in the track is courtesy of Joe South.From the moment the harmony voices sing, “Chain, chain chain, chain of fools” and Aretha breaks in with: For five long years I thought you were my man But I found out I’m just a link in your chain You got me where you want me I ain’t nothin’ but your fool Ya treated me mean Oh you treated me cruel Chain, chain, chain (Chain, chain, chain) Chain of fools
By now the hair on the nape of your neck should be standing up.Chain Of Fools
Track # 4 – Think, stands out in my memory as I glance down the list of very fine releases. It was used in the Blues Brothers 2000 film and her performance in that film was outstanding and the track was wonderfully extended for the film providing us with an amazing extended version. The track was then used on her Aretha Now album and was lifted from that album and used as a single in that same year.
It was picked up and used frequently by the feminist movement of the day, but its appeal was much wider and it reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, doing better on the Billboard R&B Chart where it reached #1.
The version on this album features Aretha Franklin on piano, Wayne Johnson on trumpet, Andrew Lowe and Charlie Chalmers on tenor sax, either Floyd Newman or Willie Bridges on baritone sax, Spooner Oldham on organ, Jerry Jemmott on bass, Tommy Cogbill and Jimmy Johnson on guitars and Roger Hawkins on drums.
It’s a powerful number both in the dynamic pace and playing, in the delivery and finally, the construction of the lyrics. Now these are lengthy, so I have only provided some of them.Think (think) think (think) think (think) Think (think) think (think) think (think) You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free Let’s go back, let’s go back, let’s go way on way back when I didn’t even know you, you couldn’t have been too much more than ten. (just a child) I ain’t no psychiatrist, I ain’t no doctor with degrees It don’t take too much high IQ’s to see what you’re doing to me You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free Oh freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom), freedom, yeah freedom Freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom), freedom, ooh freedom There ain’t nothing you could ask I could answer you but I won’t (I won’t) I was gonna change, but I’m not, if you keep doing things I don’t You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free People walking around everyday, playing games, taking scores Trying to make other people lose their minds. Well be careful, you’re gonna lose yours. Yeah, think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free Think
Despite the next track, Rock Steady, being one of my favourite tracks I flipped the album over to the second side and track 1 – possibly her best known and the track that is most associated with her – Respect.
Released in 1967 it was her second single, and what a memorable one! Written and released by the greatest male Soul singer of all times, Otis Redding, it would take a magnificent singer with an amazing delivery style to be able to match it with Redding.
Franklin does just that! But she was very clever about her interpretation. Redding wrote it as a plea to his woman! Aretha Franklin turned that interpretation on it’s head and made it a demand, and in doing so made it her track.
It earned her two Grammy Awards in 1968 for “Best Rhythm & Blues Recording” and “Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female”, and was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2002, the Library of Congress honored Franklin’s version by adding it to the National Recording Registry.
It is number five on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America.
When Aretha Franklin re-imagined the song it took on a whole new meaning. While still maintaining much of the original lyrics she made it her own anthem by adding a few key lines. This climactic break near the end of the song contains new lyrics and powerful new, soon-famous hooks: R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me R-E-S-P-E-C-T Take care … TCB Sock it to me, Sock it to me, Sock it to me, Sock it to me [etc]
The repeated “sock it to me” line, sung by Franklin’s sisters Erma and Carolyn, was an idea that Carolyn and Aretha had worked out together. [Rolling Stone]Respect
I chose track 2 because it is SO different to the original version, which is a brilliant track. Once again with the brilliance of Jerry Wexler behind her, she reinterpreted this song in a manner that makes it so evocative.
The song has the kind of pedigree that can only be dreamed of. Written by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector, and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and originally sung by the equally great Ben E. King.
Don’t get me wrong – King’s original version is liquid gold, but Aretha still managed to out sell him.
It reached #1 on the R&B for three weeks and #2 on the Pop chart for two weeks. Franklin’s version earned a gold single for sales of over one million. Dr. John played keyboards on her version with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass. Atrack often overlooked, it is an amazing arrangement and it demands to be revisited and listened to.Spanish Harlem
My final track to examine is Aretha’s first single on the Atlantic label. Recorded in 1967 I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) must have been incredibly pleasing to Atlantic, because it certainly was to the public.
A soul single it reached #1 in the R&B singles chart and #9 in the Billboard Hot 100. Not a bad effort for a first up single, and it announced to the world that the singer known as Aretha Franklin had come of age.
The story goes that upon signing with Atlantic, Aretha met with Jerry Wexler who asked her to play something, so she sat down at the piano and played this track.
From the very first chord that Aretha played on the piano, it was clear to everyone that it was a magic moment and within minutes of Franklin’s recording, Jerry Wexler knew he had a hit. Wexler had well know session man Spooner Oldham was on standby to play piano, but upon hearing Aretha he voluntarily stepped aside to play the electric piano.I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
Trying to find something to say about Aretha Franklin that has not already been said is just about impossible. The records show that Aretha Franklin has won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling female artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records worldwide.
She has been honoured throughout her career including a 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in which she became the first female performer to be inducted. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In August 2012, Aretha was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame.
She is listed in at least two all-time lists on Rolling Stone magazine, including the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, in which she placed number 9, and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time in which she placed number 1.One of the many recent pictures of Aretha
Well may we say, Amazing Aretha!
For she is and without doubt will always be, the Queen of Soul music. With some 30 albums to her name the selection is vast, but I have no doubt that her best music remains that which was recorded during her time at Atlantic records. So having the Atlantic The Best Of Aretha Franklin is indeed a damn fine album to have in any collection.
Sadly, she passed away on 16 August 2018 and while it has been said before, the [modified] phrase “we shall never see her like again”, can now be used and used very appropriately.
Aretha Franklin – Rock In Peace!
VIDEOS – Thanks to the amazing collection of videos on Youtube, we are well serviced with videos of this great singer. Rock Steady You make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman I Say A Little Prayer