“Aretha is a gift from God. When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing. Aretha has everything – the power, the technique. She is honest with everything she says.” — Mary J. Blige, from Rolling Stone’s list of Greatest Singers of All Time in 2008, which ranks Aretha #1.
What can I even say about Aretha that hasn’t already been said? She is universally considered the Queen of Soul, Freddie Mercury said he wished he could sing like her, Elton John called her the greatest singer of all time. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked her as the greatest singer of all time and the 9th greatest musical artist of modern times. Aretha wasn’t just a great singer, she was, and is, THE great singer. An inspiration to countless artists and countless more to come, I think that today’s selection as an album which embodies the “Girl Power” theme kind of goes without want of an explanation. Aretha can speak for herself.
Last month we got to hear some great Soul stylings from the likes of Mr. Otis Redding, who Noah and I have expressed our praise for. In that album, Otis Blue, we got the pleasure of hearing Otis’s original song “Respect” in which Otis asks of his, let’s say, significant other for the respect he’s due when he comes home from work, or a tour, or whatever. Today’s album selection, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, opens with a cover of that very song in which Aretha flips the script, so to speak. She took Otis’s song about a man wishing his woman respected him and turned it into one of the most universally recognizable anthems of women’s empowerment ever, and that’s not even mentioning the civil rights overtones present between the notes. Tell me that isn’t totally badass, I dare you.
Legend has it that when Otis Redding came into the studio and Aretha’s version of “Respect” was played for him, all he had to say, in his gentle Otis way, was “She done took my song.” He knew it wasn’t his song anymore. She not only claimed it as her own, but she made it into something much greater than it could have ever been otherwise.
And of course this album has more songs than just “Respect”. There are 10 other songs which round out the nearly 33 minute runtime of this classic record, and none of them are slouches. Some are original, some are covers of soul classics like Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” and “A Change is Gonna Come”, but one of the wonderful things about Aretha is that, even knowing that somebody else may have written the words, with each note that soaring voice belts out, she makes the song her own, even if it’s just until the song is over.
On this album, which among a legendary discography has been called Aretha’s greatest work, Aretha displays that pride and power, but also has plenty of fun. She packs each note with emotion and feeling, whether it’s demanding respect, letting the good times roll, or putting on that classic Soul style of sexy sensuality, and the album is a blast, start to finish, for it.
Aretha earned her respect, and a hell of a lot more. I know I’m about the least significant person who can say this, but thanks for all the wonderful music, Aretha.
I hope you all enjoy this album, but even if you don’t, you’d better damn well give it some respect.
Sounds so soulful, don’t you agree?