hroughout her six decades in show business, ARETHA FRANKLIN had been given many titles. She was labeled a "diva", a "legend", a "national treasure" and more importantly, the "Queen of Soul". Given her one-of-a-kind musicality, vocal prowess and intuitive interpretive sense, FRANKLIN was a force to be reckoned with. If you don't believe us, who else could've taken OTIS REDDING's RESPECT - a stomping plea for a little nookie at the end of the day and turn it into a freaking National Anthem? (YOU MAKE ME FEEL) LIKE A NATURAL WOMAN, is a gentle, almost bluesy ballad written by CAROLE KING about a woman grateful for the man she has at her side. But when ARETHA gets a hold of the pleasant tune, she does more than sweetly thank her man. She testifies before the entire world and we are all drawn into the frenzy.
Earlier, we mentioned the labels that had been bestowed upon the Queen of Soul, but the one title that she was never given was "pioneer". ARETHA LOUISE FRANKLIN grew up in church. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, her father C.L. FRANKLIN relocated the family to Detroit, Michigan where he assumed the pastorship of the New Bethel Baptist Church. It was here that ARETHA fine tuned her voice and her piano playing (a talent for which she has long been unrecognized for) and put the New Bethel Baptist Church on notice that a tremendous musical prodigy was on the rise, but was she to be a Gospel star or something out of the secular world? In any event, there was tremendous support for the young FRANKLIN. Family friends inlcuded DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., gospel group THE CARAVANS and soul artists JACKIE WILSON and SAM COOKE - whom FRANKLIN idolized. Despite all of these first rate music artists around her, it was her father C.L. FRANKLIN who funded her first ever demo. As a result COLUMBIA RECORDS took interest and while a singing career was born, the birth of the "artist" who would rock the world would have to wait a few more years.
Her tenure with COLUMBIA began with the single TODAY I SING THE BLUES which reached the top ten in the R&B Charts. After that came a series of a recordings of jazz, doo-wop and rhythm and blues standards which gained no serious traction for the woman raised on gospel. In 1966, FRANKLIN signed with ATLANTIC RECORDS where label owners AHMET ERTEGUN and HERB ABRAMSON heard something special in FRANKLIN's innate gospel-styled delivery and piano playing. The moguls sent her to the FAME STUDIOS in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It was here that music history was made as FRANKLIN and those badass Muscle Shoals session men recorded the piano-led blues ballad I NEVER LOVED A MAN (THE WAY THAT I LOVE YOU). The JERRY WEXLER-produced recording resulted in an R&B smash and FRANKLIN's first top ten pop hit of many. The world had no idea what it was in for. To paraphrase her idol SAM COOKE, change was gonna come.
In 1967, ARETHA FRANKLIN represented the next step in America's musical evolution. That glorious gospel upbringing of hers was combined with the gritty rhtyhm and blues of the day and that alchemy resulted in what we've come to know as soul music. From that point on, FRANKLIN would continue crafting a sound that would break down barriers with such enduring classics as RESPECT, CHAIN OF FOOLS, THINK, (YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE) A NATURAL WOMAN and numerous others. At the heart of all of these anthems was an indomitable spirit that wasn't going to be denied a seat at the table or a fair shake. In honor of the passing of this legendary performer, ROCKWIRED takes a look at some of our favorite performances from throughout the years.
I NEVER LOVED A MAN (THE WAY THAT I LOVE YOU)
This sexy, bluesy stroll, penned by RONNIE SHANNON, tells the tale of a woman who can't get an unfaithful lover out of her system. Her delivery was way ahead of it's time, right down to that irresistable, breathy chorus, where the music stops and ARETHA seductively pants her desperation into the microphone, leaving the hairs on the back of our neck stand up.
JUMPIN' JACK FLASH
FRANKLIN's one of a kind interpretative sense is going to be brought up several times throughout the course of this list. Here, she takes the STONES' raucous rocker, and with the help of KEITH RICHARD, turns it into a blistering R&B stomper.
SWEET SWEET BABY (SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE)
Penned by ARETHA and husband TED WHITE toward the end of their turbulent marriage, the song rides on an irresistable groove with horns and the very pyrotechnics we've come to expect from FRANKLIN one year after her breakthrough with ATLANTIC RECORDS. Taking an unfaithful lover to task would never be this much fun again.
A song like RESPECT gets all of the accolades and has become the "signature" song in FRANKLIN's repertoire, but ROCK STEADY is just as much of a hoot. The woman was throwing her hands in the air and waving 'em like she didn't care before anyone else was doing it.
FREEWAY OF LOVE
Being a child of the eighties, here is where I came on board. This was the golden age of MTV and like TINA TURNER a year before her, FRANKLIN reasserted herself in the pop world with this soul rocker featuring the late CLARENCE CLEMMONS on saxophone.
CHAIN OF FOOLS
Sometimes bad love feels the best and if anyone knew that, it was FRANKLIN. Of course, that theme has gone on to inspire an infinite number of pop tunes but none of them has FRANKLIN signature swagger and know-how.
We all know the classic recording about checking one's self, but the tune got a second life in the 1980 film THE BLUES BROTHERS. MATT GUITAR MURPHY thought he was gonna go back on the road again with JAKE and ELWOOD without FRANKLIN having her say. Singing aside, it's a shame that FRANKLIN didn't do much acting afte this.
Here we go bringing up the woman's power of interpretation once again. This is the signature song. Originally recorded by OTIS REDDING a year earlier, his version was more plea for "gettin' some" at the end of a long, hard day. When ARETHA does, it's truly about RESPECT and has gone on to be an anthem for suffrage and civil rights.
AIN'T NO WAY
Released on the b-side of SWEET SWEET BABY, AIN'T NO WAY was an epic ballad that deserved an a-side release. Sure, ...NATURAL WOMAN was the signature ballad, but AIN'T NO WAY had FRANKLIN's voice soaring to angelic heights.
SISTERS ARE DOIN' IT FOR THEMSELVES
TINA TURNER was originally favored by EURYTHMICS to duet with ANNIE LENNOX on this bombastic feminist anthem, but due to TURNER being unavailable, they chose to work with FRANKLIN. Given FRANKLIN's penchant for making a statement in both life and in song, who else could've taken this number to dizzying heights?
I KNEW YOU WERE WAITING FOR ME
Personally, I never thought this one came close to her duet with LENNOX, but it is testament to the woman's staying power. This was the teaming of a music legend with a young GEORGE MICHAEL stepping into his big boy pants after WHAM. Given the passing of both of them, the song now has an eerie resonance.
UNTIL YOU COME BACK TO ME (THAT'S WHAT I'M GONNA DO)
If anyone is woman enough and determined enough to win her man back it's ARETHA!!!
A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER
When SIMON & GARFUNKEL did BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER it was a haunting, gorgeous hymn about reaching out to the isolated and the suffering. When ARETHA did it, it became a soulful, reggaefied gem that was all about strength, courage and selflessness.
A performance at the GRAMMY's that no one saw coming, yet were grateful to witness. The woman could transcend any kind of music.
I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER
We have no intention of pitting diva against diva here, but DIONNE WARWICK's take on this BACHURACH/DAVID staple always seemed a bit uppity and twee. ARETHA's version is haunting and then we get to the joyous chorus with it's '...forever and evers', and you've got a signature classic on your hands. Funny how FRANKLIN always managed to do that.
ROLLING IN THE DEEP/AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH
In the age of autotune and "divas" throwing shade at each other, the Queen herself, re-emerged with the album ARETHA FRANKLIN SINGS THE GREAT DIVA CLASSICS. On it, she took on ADELE's ROLLING IN THE DEEP, a song that feels like it owes a great deal to the very music that ARETHA made her signature sound. This live performance on LETTERMAN was proof positive that the woman was still a force to be reckoned with.
A ROSE IS STILL A ROSE
In the late nineties, I couldn't have imagined a better pairing then ARETHA and Ms. LAURYN HILL for a single and an album that took everyone by surprise. FRANKLIN demonstrated that she was a cat with nine lives by embracing a thumping R&B/Hip Hop sound.
(YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE A) NATURAL WOMAN
(YOU MAKE ME FEEL) LIKE A NATURAL WOMAN, is a gentle, almost bluesy ballad written by CAROLE KING about a woman grateful for the man she has at her side. But when ARETHA gets a hold of the pleasant tune, she does more than sweetly thank her man. She testifies before the entire world and we are all drawn into the frenzy. Hell, it even reducd a President to tears.
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