- 10 Sep 18
Music lost one of its greatest ever vocalists and performers when Aretha Franklin joined the choir in the great beyond. Pat Carty pays tribute to a remarkable career, which encompassed everything from pop classics to iconic soul music that reflected the turbulence of her times.
While Aretha Franklin only really came into her own musically after she signed with Atlantic records in 1966, she had already done more than her share of living. Her parents separated when she was six, her mother passed away when she was nine, and by the time she was fourteen she already had two children of her own. She was no stranger to fame either, her father, C.L. Franklin, known as the man with the million-dollar voice, travelled the country getting well paid for his sermons. His popularity meant the Franklin house in Detroit - Aretha was born in Memphis – welcomed visitors like Sam Cooke and Martin Luther King, Jr. Her father took her performing on the road too, and secured the release of her first album when Franklin was still only fourteen. That’s enough for anyone, but she was only getting started.
The early sixties were spent on Columbia Records but those records didn’t take off so, frustrated at her lack of direction, she decided not to renew her contract. She went with Jerry Wexler and Atlantic Records, who quickly packed her off to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The story goes that Wexler asked Franklin to sit at the piano and sing him a blues song. As soon as he heard ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You)’, he knew he had a hit. It’s all there in that opening – “You’re a no-good heartbreaker, you’re a liar and a cheat” – a voice of pure soul singing the low-down blues. Flip over the single and drop the needle on the equally seismic ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ – “they say that it’s a man’s world but you can’t prove that by me”. With the greatest respect to the girl groups of Motown, this is the sound of a woman, telling you how it’s going to be - don’t you even think about giving her any shit.
She mercilessly commandeered ‘Respect’ from the great Otis Redding, transforming it into an anthem of female empowerment, and a call to arms for the civil right movement. She was demanding respect rather than asking for it, refusing to take no for an answer. These songs - she also walks away with Ray Charles’ ‘Drown In My Own Tears’ and gets down and dirty on ‘Save Me’ - make the I Never Loved A Man album play like a greatest hits. Wexler’s genius was to let Aretha do her own thing, drawing from her gospel background and combining it with her unique blues – soul music in other words.