Aretha Franklin will always be the Queen of Soul. It’s not a title that will ever be relinquished, nor will there be the next Aretha. She was never a type. On VH1’s Divas in 2001, Mary J. Blige couldn’t keep up. Ms. Franklin hit those notes, while Blige struggled and eventually relegated herself to backup. One performance had the Backstreet Boys doing background vocals on stage for ‘Chain of Fools.’ You could see the awe in their eyes, the reverence for a powerful talent. And she didn’t only sing. Franklin’s brilliance also lied in her arrangements. She would go to a piano and bring the likes of President Barack Obama to tears. As a hit-maker, musician, mentor, and songwriter Aretha Franklin left a stamp on this world that would never be erased. With a hit in every decade from the 1960’s here’s a mere sampling of her influence.
Chain of Fools
Initially released in 1967 and remade several times, ‘Chain of Fools’ is a well-crafted story. Many may have believed that the best rendition they’ve heard may have been from ‘The Commitments’ soundtrack. But for those of a particular age it only had us running back to our 45s. That song is everything. But it’s that bridge where the music drops down and Franklin belts out ‘They tell me to leave you alone’ where you begin to feel the song in your soul. And from there you understand the desperation and danger of young love. Only Franklin’s original rendition does that. Yes it won a Grammy for her vocal performance. And though it was written by someone else, ‘Chain of Fools’ is still the only song done in a minor chord. But the brilliance of the song is her interpretation. When you close your eyes, the narrative is clear and vivid.
Though it was released in 1968 and was a big hit, ‘Think’ will be known to many from Franklin singing it in 1980 ‘The Blues Brothers’ movie. One of the more colorful backstories of the production is that the studio wanted Rose Royce because of their song ‘Car Wash.’ At the time disco was popular and Atlantic Records had unceremoniously dumped Franklin. Her career climbed back and her venture into acting brought her to a new audience. Franklin sang both ‘Think’ and ‘Respect’ in the movie. Co-written by Franklin it’s an anthem for women claiming their power. She later reworked the lyrics to be another anthem for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It’s a big voice song that’s deceptive. If you sing it in your car, by the time you get to the chorus, most likely you’re just singing freedom and nodding your head. Do yourself a favor and just listen.
Something He Can Feel
From the original film soundtrack ‘Sparkle,’ ‘Giving Him Something He Can Feel’ has been a hit only twice. Once by Franklin in 1976 and then not again until En Vogue in 1992. And although she did not write this track, she owned it. This song was her biggest hit in the 70’s.
I Knew You Were Waiting
A duet with George Michael may not be what you expect from the Queen of Soul, but Franklin knew a hit and listened to Clive Davis when he suggested the song to her. George Michael along with nearly everyone else who’s ever sang with Franklin just did his thing. The 1987 pop-song reached number one and was one of Franklin’s largest hits. It also scored a Grammy win for her and Michael for best duo. Side Note: Randy Jackson plays bass guitar on the track.
A Rose is Still a Rose
Written by Lauryn Hill and sung by Franklin made this 1998 song special. One reason being the young star on the rise in Hill gifted Franklin with yet another hit for her repertoire. The song is told in the perspective of a woman who’s been through it all telling a younger one that although she continues to get into bad relationships, she’s still worthy of being loved. Faith Evans and Hill are in the music video. And Hill sings backup. ‘A Rose is Still a Rose’ brought a new audience in to appreciate her voice.
We will miss Aretha Franklin for her uncanny, recognizable voice, not only in her singing, but in her fight for civil rights. She paid for Angela Davis’ bail, fought for equality and her rendition of ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’ at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral embodies what it means to be lifted up. Aretha Franklin was a woman who lived her life and didn’t allow anyone to shame her choices from being a young mother to not traveling on airplanes. With all her feminist anthems, men who did me wrong music and songs to make you glad to be a woman, Franklin did it all. She was truly a queen.