When Aretha Franklin burst onto the music scene in 1967, I suspect many people thought she was an overnight success. In fact, she had been signed by Columbia Records back in 1961, but because of the songs she was given to sing (“Rock-a-bye My Baby With A Dixie Melody”?), the producers she had and/or the label’s promotion, she was unable to break through.
It wasn’t until she moved over to Atlantic Records, and recorded with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, that her true gift came to fruition. And when her period at Atlantic came to an end, changing over to Arista Records in the early 1980s, had a few more hits.
Most of my favorites are from the Atlantic period, though one was from the Columbia era, and one was something else altogether. Links to each song.
12. Spanish Harlem (#2 in 1971) – this is such a great reworking. And I love the word “BLLACK.”
11. You’re All I Need To Get By (#19 in 1971). The RESPECT reprise is great. (Couldn’t find a studio version; this is LIVE from 1978.)
10. Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves (#18 in 1985). With the Eurythmics. Love Annie Lennox and Aretha sharing phrases.
9. I Say a Little Prayer (#10 in 1968). Reworks the Bacharach-David tune to something playfully funky.
8. Eleanor Rigby (#17 in 1969). The first great thing – she tells it in the first person: “I’m Eleanor Rigby.” Secondly, the phraseology is SO not dependent on the original.
7. Rock Steady (#9 in 1971). Love the organ intro. “What it is, what it is, what it is.”
6. Chain Of Fools (#2 in 1968). The bridge is my favorite section.
5. Ain’t No Way (#16 in 1968). Heartfelt ballad with a lovely solo soprano by Cissy Houston, Whitney’s mom.
4. (Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone (#5 in 1968). When I used to listen to AM radio in the day, the DJs would often talk over the musical intro, which irritated me greatly. No talking over THIS intro, which was one chord.
3. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (#8 in 1967). The second appearance of this song in this blog in less than two months – previously in my Carole King post.
2. Sweet Bitter Love (1966). This title cut of a Columbia album was written by Van McCoy, who was better known for The Hustle a decade later. I first heard this song on a Columbia compilation album, Our Best To You: Today’s Great Hits… Today’s Great Stars, and loved it instantly. In the right (wrong?) frame of mind, it’ll make me cry.
1. Respect (#1 in 1967). Otis Redding, the original writer/performer of this song, famously said that Aretha “done stole [that song] from me,” making it her own. It became an anthem. One of the five greatest cover versions EVER.