So much has been written about this album that it’s really tough to add anything new. And the term “classic” is thrown around so much these days that it’s hard to put it into any useful perspective. But the bottom line is this: any serious fan of music should have a copy of this; it trascends all labels, all boundaries. It is a must have. And there is a reason Rolling Stone Magazine gives this 5 stars and calls this “the Best Soul Album Ever Recorded”. From the instantly recognizable sass and strut of “Respect“, to the blues belter “Dr Feelgood“, through the Bossa Nova-flavoured “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream“, every song is a winner. Miss Franklin even had a hand in writing several of the tracks on this album, showing she is much more than just “the world’s greatest soul singer.” There are more classic songs on this album than you can shake a stick at. Just read the tracklisting and see for yourself. Franklin is backed by the Muscle Shoals house band on this album, although only one song ( the incredible title track ) was recorded entirely in the famous Alabama studio, and they really deliver the goods. As good as some of her mostly overlooked Columbia Records material was ( and a lot of it was very good, although it was more “adult” in that it was more jazz oriented ) her Atlantic debut has a passion – grit and soul- that had never before been captured on tape. And Franklin has a gift of interpretation ( only hinted at during her 5 years with Columbia Records, where she mostly sang big band, jazz, blues, soul and pop covers, as well as a small handfull of self-penned originals ) that is unequaled in the world of popular music. Her covers of Otis Redding’s “Respect, of “Drown In My Own Tears” ( previously recorded by both Dinah Washington and by Ray Charles ) and of Sam Cooke’s beautiful ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come” make you forget the orginals. The Reign Begins Here.
A1 Respect 2:26
A2 Drown in My Own Tears 4:00
A3 I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) 2:47
A4 Soul Serenade 2:30
A5 Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream 2:22
A6 Baby, Baby, Baby 2:48
B1 Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business) 3:18
B2 Good Times 2:05
B3 Do Right Woman – Do Right Man 3:15
B4 Save Me 2:20
B5 A Change Is Gonna Come 4:15
After six years of recording and releasing mostly slicked-up proto-soul, broadway tunes and Hollywood schmaltz, Aretha Franklin, the soon to become undisputed Queen of Soul, was finally let loose to – to use the adagium of the day – do her own thing, in a Southern, gospel-feverished, Black and Beautiful way.
Released in 1967, Aretha’s first album for Atlantic is something of a landmark. Gone is the overproduction, gone are the sappy arrangements and gone is the MOR-slickness of her Columbia material. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, featuring Rick Hall’s ultra funky FAME rhtyhm section, this is the LP that truly kickstarted the incredible career of Aretha Franklin, or as she was soon to be dubbed, ‘Miss Re’, ‘Lady Soul’ and, naturally, the crowned Queen of the entire genre.
“Respect” probably is the greatest album-opener in the history of popular music. This superlative, funky, churchy beater was cooked up using all of Southern Soul’s main ingredients: thumping drums, thundering bass, country church organ, crisp electric guitars and a huge, huge stew of delicious brass. Add Aretha’s powerful, gospel-drenched vocals and the Sweet Inspirations’ on-the-money ‘oohs’ on top of it all, and let the result speak for itself. Otis Redding, the man who had written and composed the tune and scored a huge R&B hit with it in 1965, was reportedly blown away by Franklin’s treatment.
And that’s only the beginning. Next, she gives her raw spin on Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears“, after which the mammoth “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You)“, with its hypnotizing, bluesy beat and terrific vocal, further explores the inner, outer and unknown realms of Pure Soul.
“Soul Serenade“, the King Curtis-original, follows and picks the pace up a bit, adding more of those fatback, punishing horns, while “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream” has a considerable Latin-esque feel.
Co-written with her youngest sister Carolyn, “Baby Baby Baby” is another deliciously slow-grinding, gospel-flavored ballad. The song went back to Franklin’s early days; James Brown had understood its brilliance when he had his act Anna King & Bobby Byrd record a version of it back in 1964.
“Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)” is another one of Franklin’s most enduring, no-holds-barred vocal achievements. Accompanying herself on piano (as she does on virtually the entire LP), her outbursts on the chorus are mindblowing.
An up-paced, horn-heavy cover of Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” – also featuring great guitar fills – precedes the almost anthemic “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man“. Like “Respect“, a plea for being appreciated by one’s lover, both tunes could well be deemed as a few of the first ‘feminist’ protest tunes, even if both were originally written by men!
King Curtis adds another original with the strutting “Save Me“, which rides a preposterous groove and hints to the oncoming funk revolution, after which the earthshaking disc ends on a poignant, political note with a devastatingly beautiful version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come“.
You can also enjoy her masterpiece “Lady Soul” on our back pages here.