The sad news that Aretha Franklin, the Queen Of Soul, passed away in mid-August left a big hole in the hearts of those who love her and her music. The world paused to pay tribute to the icon not only because of the music she popularized during her time, but also of the impact these made.
Aretha was revolutionary. She sang of equality and liberation during a climate of divisiveness and uncertainty. But, she wrapped those themes in great R&B, gospel, blues, and pop songs that resonated during its time and continues to do so to this day.
But what hits you most about Aretha was her voice. It was singular and powerful. It’s one of the most beautiful and expressive sound ever.
Here are the seven most unforgettable recorded moments in the storied career of Aretha Franklin that spanned five decades:
1. “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)” was said to have had troublesome beginnings in that the musicians hired to do the recording can’t seem to get the song right. That is, until Aretha sat on the piano and laid down the arrangement that eventually became her first-ever number one chart hit.
2. “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” is a track that had its roots planted in Aretha’s favored rhythm and blues style. At this point in her career when she recorded this track, numbers like this one was de rigueur for Aretha. But it was also getting more expressive and drove right at the heart and ears of the listener.
3. An Otis Redding – original, “Respect” became a frenetic burst of feel-good pop in the capable hands of Aretha. It also became a battle cry of sorts for equality as it literally demanded what Aretha so unforgettably spelled out. All three songs came from Aretha’s 1967 Atlantic Records debut.
4. The gender swears by “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” for the simple premise it sends to men: Love me and make me feel good, like a natural woman should. Men should use this song as a guide to remember to always treat (her) woman right. Songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote this song for Aretha upon the instruction of Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler. But at its core, this timeless track is a testament to the healing power of love and is beautiful in every way.
5. Also worth checking out is “Ain’t No Way,” with its haunting back up vocals that raise the hair on arms.
6. “Son Of A Preacher Man” was already a big hit for Dusty Springfield before Aretha recorded it. But in truth, it was originally intended for the latter when it was written. Aretha, whose father was a preacher, did it justice and more, so many people say.
7. Released in 1985, “Freeway Of Love” was my generation’s entry point into the music of Aretha. While listening to Tears For Fears, Duran Duran, and Spandau Ballet, Aretha competed for attention. And she got it.
There are more, of course. “I Say A Little Prayer,” the funky “Rock Steady,” the Ray Charles-esque piano riff intro romp of “Think,” with its rising choruses of “Freedom,” “Spanish Harlem,” and her covers of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Let It Be,” and a lengthy catalog of recorded work.
Aretha was a class act. She made great use of her talents and skills and shared it to the world as well as paving the way for women artists to follow her lead. She may be gone, but we have a wealth of music to remember her by.
The Rolling Stones guitarist-songwriter Keith Richards, upon Aretha’s passing, said it best. “Today is a sad day, but what a glorious woman!”
That she is.