You’ll read and hear a whole lot of tributes to Aretha Franklin today and for quite some time.
They will be issued with good reason. Aretha was an American original, an American treasure. That isn’t exaggeration. The way this woman bounded onto the national music scene in the 1960s and made it her own will forever be one of the great things in our culture.
On a personal level, the music you most identify with usually is the music you first gave your true attention. For me, that was during the late 1960s. Beatles and Stones, sure, obviously. But also Simon and Garfunkel, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Rascals, Sly and the Family Stone, Glen Campbell, the Temptations, acts that cranked out music that hasn’t been forgotten a half-century later.
With rare exceptions like Diana Ross, the airwaves belonged to men. But there was Aretha in the middle of it, putting out one great single after another after another.
Everybody knows “Respect,” one of the most-amazing records anyone ever released, one high on just about every critic’s list of the best songs ever. Seven years ago, Rolling Stone published a list of the top 500 songs of all-time, be it rock, rap or R&B. “Respect” was No. 5. Many have it higher on their own lists.
Then there was the incomparable “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
And “Chain of Fools.”
And so many more. I remember hearing “I Say a Little Prayer” on WLS-AM in Chicago on a bus trip to a Cubs game. It was the first time I’d heard it, and I instantly loved it.
But my favorite is “Until You Come Back to Me.” I defy anyone on the planet to give a better performance of a song than this. Listen to it here. You’ll feel better, and be a better person for it.
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There was “Think” and “Day Dreaming” and “Oh Me Oh My” and “Spanish Harlem” and “Rock Steady” and so many more. The voice and the energy ... so many people have great voices, but so few are truly great singers.
What a career, what a talent, what a presence. The radio was on when I was a kid, and sooner or later, there was the Queen of Soul.
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