Thursday, March 25, 2010

Queen for a Day

Happy Birthday to Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, who is 68 today. Probably no other rock & roll act with the exception of Elvis Presley has made such an artistic impression without writing his or her own material. Many of Aretha's greatest covers have been forgotten, since oldies stations tend to play only the original recordings, but she hit the Top Forty with all the following remakes, which are more famous in their original versions:

"I Say a Little Prayer" (1968)
"You Send Me" (1968) (Top Forty R&B)
"The Weight" (1969)
"Tracks of My Tears (1969) (Top Forty R&B)
"Eleanor Rigby" (1969)
"You're All I Need to Get By" (1971)
"Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1971)
"Spanish Harlem" (1971)
"Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (1974) (Top Forty R&B)
"What a Fool Believes" (1980) (Top Forty R&B)
"Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1986)
"Everyday People" (1991) (Top Forty R&B)

"Respect," which is probably Aretha's signature song, is a cover as well, of course, having been done originally by the great Otis Redding, who wrote it. Aretha didn't change the lyrics, but since it's about a breadwinner, it took on a whole different tinge in her hands:

I'm about to give you all of my money
And all I'm askin' in return, honey
Is to give me my profits
When you get home

It's unusual, in the mid-Sixties, for a woman to sing about bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan, but the situation is by no means unheard of. Marvin Gaye's mother, for one, was the one in his household who made all the money, while his father was an unemployed, churchless preachin' man. Songs about working women were few and far between in 1967, but there were plenty of women who could identify with Aretha's take.

Aretha didn't need to write her own songs to make these kinds of personal statements. She's a personal statement in and of herself. Long live the Queen.


  1. I'm supposed to give Aretha her profits? I always heard that as "propers" -- as in, "give me the proper respect due to me." Either way, that's all her -- in the Redding version he says neither (what he wants when he gets home is, um, wordless: "all I'm asking -- HEY -- is give me respect when I come home . . . just give it, ugh, give it, RESPECT when I come home ... give it, give it, give it to me, baby, everything I need"). And the most famous part of the song -- "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" —— is also all her, unique to her arrangement (her arrangements -- particularly this one -- were packed with nearly as many hooks as an Abba song; they combined the Motown and Memphis styles, equally ear candy and gut bucket).

    Last point: She may not have written her material, but like Elvis, her musical instincts played a crucial role in her breakthrough recordings. The famous story is that the difference between the pop-jazz she first flopped with at Columbia and the soul she shook the world with at Atlantic was Jerry Wexler putting her behind the piano. Nearly as famous a story: Elvis, Scotty and Bill working out the parts for their first Sun session on a back porch on July 4, 1954, two guitars and a bass.

  2. I always thought it was "propers" too, but it said "profits" on the lyrics site I checked, and I don't trust myself to get lyrics right. I should have gone with my instincts.

  3. Or found a lyric site with a little more soul!