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Cream of The Crate: Album # 156 - Aretha Franklin: The Best Of


  • Cream of The Crate: Album # 156 - Aretha Franklin: The Best Of

    "You know a force from heaven. You know something that God made. And Aretha is a gift from God." (Rolling Stone - The 100 Greatest Singers)
    "Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music ...more than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged.."(
    “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I'm using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I'm happy with that.” (Aretha Franklin)

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    This is album review number one hundred and fifty three in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.

    The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.

    This week's album from my crate features one of the all time popular female artists to have ever recorded on the Atlantic label and, she rightly wore the crown as the Queen of Soul.

    The artist is
    Aretha Franklin and this is a compilation album and is titled - The Best Of. The album was released on the vinyl format in 1984 on the Atlantic label and it has the identifying code of 81280-1. The album has 12 tracks and it really represents some of her absolute best tracks.

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    Aretha Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, the fourth of five children of a Baptist preacher and a gospel singer. She was born a prodigy and as the world quickly learned, she was a gifted pianist with a powerful voice. Her father was a baptist preacher, Clarence La Vaughan "C.L." Franklin, and her mother, Barbara Siggers Franklin, was a regular soloist in the church.Franklin often sang in front of her father's Detroit congregation. By the age of 14 she had recorded some of her earliest tracks at the church. She also performed with C.L.'s traveling revival show and, while on tour, she befriended gospel greats such as Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward.

    While her life on the road taught her that she had to grow up quickly, in at least one regard that process meant she was part of many adult behaviours at a very young age. By 15 years of age she had her first child and by 17 years of age, she had her second.

    With her father's blessing, Franklin traveled to New York in 1960. After being courted by several labels, including Motown and RCA, she signed with Columbia Records. Aretha then released The Great Aretha Franklin for the label that same year.

    In 1961, the single "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody" hit No. 37 on the pop charts. Aretha had a few top 10 singles on the R&B charts, but they failed to promote the talent that she had shown in her gospel music. It was after a few more disappointments that she and new husband and manager, Ted White ,decided a move was in order and Franklin moved to the Atlantic label in 1967.

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    The young Aretha in the Atlantic studio

    Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler immediately sensed a real talent and shuttled Franklin to the studios at the Florence Alabama Musical Emporium and thus began an extraordinary recording career.

    Now she was working with musicians that really had talent. Paired with sidemen trained in soul, blues, rock and gospel—including session guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, Aretha recorded the single I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You). In the midst of recording sessions, her husband Ted White quarrelled with a member of the backing band, and White and Franklin left abruptly. As the single became a massive top 10 hit, Franklin re-emerged in New York, and was able to complete the partially recorded track, Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.

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    Listening to a session playback at Atlantic [Jerry Wexler rear right]

    Then between 1967 and 1968 she forever cemented her place as the Queen of Soul recording and releasing a range of hits all of which became enduring classics including, but not limited to Respect, Chain of Fools, Think and I Say A Little Prayer. During the 1970's she had some success but changes in music and tastes began to take a toll and she slipped down the charts and may have fallen into oblivion, if not for a cameo role in the 1980 movie - The Blues Brothers. She departed Atlantic in 1979.

    From that time on right through until today, she still reigns supreme as the Queen of Soul.

    In her years prior to moving to and recording at Atlantic [1960 - 1967] her highest charting track was in 1961, with Operation Heartbreak, the B-side of a single that reached number 6. The move to Atlantic saw her record no less than 17 number one singles and many others reaching number two. The first being I Never Loved A Man in 1967 and the last being Break It To Me Gently in 1967. During her time at Atlantic she released a staggering 57 singles, 19 studio albums, 3 live albums and 8 compilations, with this album, The Best of Aretha Franklin, being released after she left.

    So what tracks are there on it?

    1. Chain Of Fools

    2. I Say A Little Prayer

    3. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

    4. Think

    5. Rock Steady
    6. Until You Come Back To Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)

    Side 2
    1. Respect
    2. Spanish Harlem
    3. Dr. Feelgood
    4. Do Right Woman - Do Right Man
    5. I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)

    6. Save Me

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    Before I start looking at a few of the tracks, I must say it is disappointing that they haven't been sequenced in some sort of logical manner, such as in order of date recorded. If there is some logic it has by-passed me. Let's pick up on track one - Chain Of Fools which was recorded in 1967 during a very hectic first year at Atlantic. The song was written by Don Covay (of Mercy, Mercy, and Pony Time fame) and is one of her Atlantic singles that featured on many of her albums.

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    It reached the #2 position in the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues chart. With guitar played by Joe South it is a fabulous example of her ability to sing R&B and yet make it her own. The great guitar in the track is courtesy of Joe South. From the moment the harmony voices sing, "Chain, chain chain, chain of fools" and Aretha breaks in with:
    For five long years
    I thought you were my man
    But I found out
    I'm just a link in your chain

    You got me where you want me
    I ain't nothin' but your fool
    Ya treated me mean
    Oh you treated me cruel

    Chain, chain, chain
    (Chain, chain, chain)
    Chain of fools

    Then hair on the nape of your neck should be standing up.

    Chain Of Fools

    Track #4 - Think, stands out in my memory as I glance down the list of very fine releases, as it was used in the Blues Brothers 2000 film, and her performance in that film was outstanding even though the track was extended especially for the film, and Aretha lip-synched. When you have a proven track record like she does and have vocal talent oozing out of every pore, then we can accept this lip-synch. The track was placed on her 1968
    Aretha Now album and was lifted and released as a single in the same year. It was picked up and used frequently by the feminist movement of the day,but its appeal was much wider and it reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, doing better on the Billboard R&B Chart where it reached #1.

    The version on this album features
    Aretha Franklin on piano, Wayne Johnson on trumpet, Andrew Lowe and Charlie Chalmers on tenor sax, either Floyd Newman or Willie Bridges on baritone sax, Spooner Oldham on organ, Jerry Jemmott on bass, Tommy Cogbill and Jimmy Johnson on guitars and Roger Hawkins on drums.

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    It's a powerful number, both in the dynamic pace and playing, in the delivery and finally, the construction of the lyrics, which are lengthy, so I have only provided some of them.

    Think (think) think (think) think (think)
    Think (think) think (think) think (think)

    You better think (think) think about what you're trying to do to me
    Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free

    Let's go back, let's go back, let's go way on way back when
    I didn't even know you, you couldn't have been too much more than ten. (just a child)
    I ain't no psychiatrist, I ain't no doctor with degrees
    It don't take too much high IQ's to see what you're doing to me

    You better think (think) think about what you're trying to do to me
    Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free

    Oh freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom), freedom, yeah freedom
    Freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom), freedom, ooh freedom

    There ain't nothing you could ask I could answer you but I won't (I won't)
    I was gonna change, but I'm not, if you keep doing things I don't

    You better think (think) think about what you're trying to do to me
    Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free

    People walking around everyday, playing games, taking scores
    Trying to make other people lose their minds.
    Well be careful, you're gonna lose yours.

    Yeah, think (think) think about what you're trying to do to me
    Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free


    Despite the next track being Rock Steady, one of my favourite tracks, I flipped the album over to the second side and track 1 - possibly her best known track Respect.

    Released in 1967 it was her second single, and what a memorable one! Written and released by the greatest male Soul singer of all times, Otis Redding, it would take a magnificent singer with an amazing delivery style to be able to match it with Redding. Franklin does just that! But she was very clever about her interpretation. Otis wrote it as a plea to his woman! Aretha Franklin turned that interpretation on it's head and made it a demand, and in doing so made it her track.

    It earned her two Grammy Awards in 1968 for "Best Rhythm & Blues Recording" and "Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female", and was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2002, the Library of Congress honored Franklin's version by adding it to the National Recording Registry. It is number five on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It was also included in the list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry of America.

    When Aretha Franklin re-imagined the song it took on a whole new meaning. While still maintaining much of the original lyrics she made it her own anthem by adding a few key lines. This climactic break near the end of the song contains new lyrics and powerful new, soon-famous hooks:
    Find out what it means to me
    Take care ... TCB
    Sock it to me, Sock it to me, Sock it to me, Sock it to me [etc]

    The repeated "sock it to me" line, sung by Franklin's sisters Erma and Carolyn, was an idea that Carolyn and Aretha had worked out together. [Rolling Stone]


    I chose track 2 because it is SO different to the original version, which is a brilliant track, but yet again with the brilliance of Jerry Wexler behind her, she reinterpreted this song in a manner that makes it so evocative.

    The song has the kind of pedigree that can only be dreamed of. Written by
    Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector, and produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and originally sung by the equally great Ben E. King. Don't get me wrong - King's original version is liquid gold, but Aretha still managed to out sell him. It reached #1 on the R&B for three weeks and #2 on the Pop chart for two weeks. Franklin's version earned a gold single for sales of over one million. Dr. John played keyboards on her version with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass. It is an amazing arrangement and it demands to be revisited and listened to.

    Spanish Harlem

    My final track to examine is Aretha's first single on the Atlantic label. recorded in 1967 I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) must have been incredibly pleasing to Atlantic, because it certainly was to the public. A soul single it reached #1 in the R&B singles chart and #9 in the Billboard Hot 100. Not a bad effort for a first up single, and it announced to the world that the singer known as Aretha Franklin had come of age.

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    The story goes that upon signing with Atlantic, Aretha met with Jerry Wexler who asked her to play something, so she sat down at the piano and played this track. From the very first chord that Aretha played on the piano, it was clear to everyone that it was a magic moment and within minutes of Franklin's recording, Jerry Wexler knew he had a hit. Wexler had well know session man Spooner Oldham was on standby to play piano, but upon hearing Aretha he voluntarily stepped aside to play the electric piano.

    I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)

    Trying to find something to say about Aretha Franklin that has not already been said is just about impossible. The records show that Aretha Franklin has won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and is one of the best-selling female artists of all time, having sold over 75 million records worldwide.She has been honored throughout her career including a 1987 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in which she became the first female performer to be inducted. She was inducted to the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. In August 2012, Aretha was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She is listed in at least two all-time lists on Rolling Stone magazine, including the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, in which she placed number 9, and the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time in which she placed number 1.

    She continues to sing today and in fact just this week she serenaded the Pope with her unique rendition of Amazing Grace.

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    A recent picture of Aretha

    Well may we say, Amazing Aretha! For she is and without doubt will always be, the Queen of Soul music. With some 30 albums to her name the selection is vast, but i have no doubt that her best music remains that which was recorded during her time at Atlantic records. So having The Best Of [The Atlantic] Aretha Franklin is indeed a damn fine album to have in any collection.

    Just be aware there are a number of albums with this title, so apart from the track listing look for the notable cover, and it is available on the CD format for as little as Au$10.00 while the vinyl can be picked up on Discogs for varying prices, but generally under Au$20.00 - just take care to read the surface condition reports.

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    VIDEOS - Thanks to the amazing collection of videos on Youtube, we are well serviced with Aretha vids.

    Rock Steady

    You make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman

    I Say A Little Prayer

    Dr. Feelgood

    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out the first fifty (50) CD's reviewed by me, just click here

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    If you are interested in checking out reviews 101 to 150 (Vinyl & CD) as reviewed by me, just click here

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    Past album Reviews - Numbers 151 onward:

    Number 151 - The Shaggs: Philosophy Of The World

    Number 152 - The Animals: The Animals

    Number 153 - Omar Khorshid: Live in Australia 1981

    Number 154 - Alan Parsons Project: Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allan Poe)

    Number 155 - Billy Thorpe: Tangier
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