While the memorial for Aretha Franklin is still going on in Detroit, it felt right to celebrate her with more great music. My previous post about the Queen of Soul is here. Apparently, the above clip of Rock Steady was captured in 1972 during a performance on the TV show Soul Train. I just love the funky groove of this tune!
Rock Steady was written by Franklin, who was mostly known for performing songs by other writers and making them her own. She first recorded the tune for her eighteenth studio album Young, Gifted And Black from January 1972. It was also released separately as the record’s third single in August 1971.
The single peaked at no. 9 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It climbed all the way to no. 2 on the Best Selling Souls Singles chart, now called the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
Earlier this year, I got very close to seeing Aretha Franklin live at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. I had already purchased two tickets and was thrilled to finally experience who I felt was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. Another cool thing was that the March 25th show would have coincided with her 76th birthday. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
On very short notice, the concert was cancelled due to an unidentified illness. When media reported shortly thereafter that Franklin’s doctor had ordered three months of absolute rest, I didn’t have a good feeling. After all, this wasn’t the first time she had dealt with health issues. Yesterday, the Queen of Soul passed away from advanced pancreatic cancer, barely five months after her birthday and what I’m sure would have been an unforgettable performance.
Given the vast number of obituaries that have been published since news about her untimely death broke yesterday morning, I’m not going to develop yet another one. Instead, I’d like to focus on what will remain – an amazing amount of music by an amazing performer, released over a 60-year-plus professional career.
Based on Wikipedia, Franklin’s enormous catalog includes 42 studio albums, six live albums, 131 singles and numerous compilations. While it’s obviously impossible to capture all of that music in one playlist while keeping it to no more than 10 tracks, I tried to come up with tunes that span her entire recording period.
Where to start the undertaking? Well, how about Franklin’s studio debut Songs Of Faith from 1956, which was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, the church of her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin. Here’s While The Blood Runs Warm. Franklin was only 14 years old at the time, but you can already hear her powerful voice. This is giving me goosebumps!
Franklin’s fourth studio album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin from August 1962 became her first charting record, reaching no. 69 on the Billboard pop albums chart. Here’s Try A Little Tenderness, a tune I dig, written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods, and first recorded by the Ray Nobel Orchestra in December 1932. It has since been covered by many other artists, who in addition to Franklin most notably included Otis Redding in 1966.
Respect is perhaps the best-known Aretha Franklin song. The signature tune, which was written and first released by Otis Redding in 1965, appeared on her 11th studio album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You from March 1967. The song was Franklin’s first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, as well as the Cash Box chart. The record became her highest charting to date, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard album chart and topping the magazine’s R&B chart.
Another Franklin signature song undoubtedly is Think, co-written by her and her manager and first husband Ted White. The feminism anthem appeared on her 15th studio album Aretha Now in June 1968 and was also released separately as a single in May of the same year. White’s involvement in the song’s writing looks ironical, given Franklin divorced him in 1969, following reports of domestic abuse.
This Girl’s In Love With You was Franklin’s first ’70s album appearing in January that year, and her 18th studio album overall. Intriguingly, it includes the first commercial release of Let It Be, preceding The Beatles’ version by two months, and the following take of The Weight written by The Band’sRobbie Robertson. Oh, and if the guy on the slide guitar somehow seems to sound familiar, it was Duane Allman. I think not only is this soulful cover smoking hot, but it’s also a great illustration of Franklin’s great ability to take songs written by others and make them her own.
In February 1974, Franklin released her 22nd studio album Let Me Be In Your Life. The second single from that record was Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do), co-written by Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder and Morris Broadnax. It was first recorded by Wonder in 1967, though he didn’t release his version until 1977. The tune became a million-seller for Franklin, topping the Billboard R&B chart and peaking at no. 2 on the Hot 100. It was her last major ’70s hit.
Jumping to the ’80s, Franklin collaborated on a number of songs with various other artists during that decade, such as George Benson, Elton John, George Michael and Eurhythmics. The tune I’d like to highlight in this context is Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, another feminist anthem that Franklin recorded with Eurhythmics. Apart from appearing as a single in October 1985, the tune was included on Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? and the British pop duo’s Be Yourself Tonight studio albums. Co-written by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, the song reached no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 9 in the U.K. on the Official Singles Chart. The track proves that Franklin could even make an ’80s commercial pop tune sound pretty hot.
A Rose Is Still A Rose, released in March 1998, was Franklin’s last studio album that reached Gold certification and became her best-selling record of the ’90s. Following is the title track, which was written by Lauryn Hill and is yet another feminist-based tune. It also appeared as a single one month ahead of the album, reaching no. 1, 5 and 26 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap Songs and Hot 100 charts, respectively.
Jumping to the current century, in September 2003, Franklin’s 38th studio record So Damn Happy appeared. It included Wonderful, a song co-written by Aleese Simmons and Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, which won Franklin the 2003 Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.
Franklin’s 42nd and final studio album A Brand New Me was released in November 2017. It featured archival vocal recordings from her years with Atlantic Records combined with new arrangements by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and newly recorded backing vocals. Here’s I Say A Little Prayer, which Burt Bacharach and Hal David co-wrote for Dionne Warwick who released it in 1967 as as single. It was also included on her eighth studio release The Windows Of The World. Franklin originally recorded the tune for the above noted Aretha Now album and released it as a single in July 1968, scoring a no. 3 and 10 on the Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively.
As previously noted, the goal of the above playlist was to be career-spanning. As such, not all of the songs are among my favorite tunes. But at the same time, I feel that because of her powerful voice and soulful delivery, Franklin simply never sang a bad song in the first place – at least I haven’t heard one yet. Two other artists who come to my mind in this context are Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. It’s a rare quality that is going to be part of Franklin’s legacy.
Earlier today, the sad news broke that Aretha Franklin passed away at age 75 from advanced pancreatic cancer. Not surprisingly, obituary after obituary has been published since. Instead of putting together yet another review of her life, I’m posting the above clip to celebrate Franklin’s music. I think the above footage of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman says it all why Franklin rightly was called the Queen of Soul.
Co-written by Carole King and Jerry Goffin with input from producer Jerry Wexler, the beautiful tune was released by Franklin as a single in September 1967. It also was included on her 14th studio album Lady Soul from January 1968. King also recorded her own version of the song for her 1971 landmark record Tapestry.
Since Franklin certainly deserves more than this brief post, I’m planning to do additional writing about her in the coming days.
There is perhaps no other vocalist like Aretha Franklin. Now in her mid-70s, the Queen of Soul still sounds terrific. The above clip of Respect was captured during a show last May at NYCB Theatre at Westbury in Westbury, N.Y.
Respect was written by Otis Redding, who also first recorded and released the tune in 1965. But it was Franklin’s version from 1967, which became a major hit and her signature song when it appeared in April that year as the second single from her 11th studio album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You.
Franklin is still performing, though in February 2017, she announced she would retire from touring at the end of last year. In August, Franklin told the Detroit Free Press she planned to open a nightclub where she would occasionally sing. Currently, her official website lists four scheduled shows for this year.
One of the gigs is coming up on March 25 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. That’s way too close to my house not show her some r-e-s-p-e-c-t. Apparently, it was not too early to get tickets for what may be one of the last opportunities to see Franklin in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state are. The show is almost sold out!
Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, Detroit Free Press, YouTube