On August 16, we lost the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. We look back at her singles which reached the Top 10 and reflect on her music and life along with her friend Sarah Dash, who gained fame with Labelle.
By Warren Kurtz
Flip side: Do Right Woman – Do Right Man
A side: I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)
Top 100 debut: March 4, 1967
Peak position: 9
Aretha Franklin was known as the Queen of Soul, with forty Top 40 singles throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. From 1960 through early 1966, she had a slow start at Columbia where they tried to market her as a jazz vocalist, even with the 1964 single “Soulville.” Columbia executives didn’t seem to realize that this new soul music was evolving and her presence could be key. Atlantic understood her potential, signed her to their label in 1966 and matched her with the right musicians. Aretha Franklin’s career took off in 1967.
Aretha Franklin’s breakthrough single was “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” from the album of the same name. Her powerful bluesy delivery propelled the single into the Top 10. The flip side, also from the album, was “Do Right Woman – Do Right Man” with a simple theme that if you want a “do right woman” you’ve got to be a “do right man.” She sang about showing respect, hinting at her next and biggest hit. In addition to providing a sweet, clear vocal, Aretha Franklin played both a bluesy piano part along with a gospel sounding organ backdrop on this Chips Moman and Dan Penn composition. Her sisters Carolyn and Erma Franklin provided the background vocals, including echoing the word “woman,” as would be heard on another Top 10 single in the near future. The third single from the album was her classic version of Otis Redding’s “Respect.” It was given a treatment from the female point of view and became a number one song of empowerment and civil rights anthem.
For the rest of 1967 and throughout the next year, six of her Atlantic singles also reached the Top 10, with “Baby I Love You” as her next hit.
In 1968, Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul album featured three Top 10 hit singles. Her version of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” rivals composer Carole King’s version as being the definitive performance. “Chain of Fools” was fun and “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” was powerful.
Heading into the summer of 1968, “Think” was the first single from the Aretha Now album and later became an energetic and comedic performance in the 1980 Blues Brothers film. The final single in the string of eight Top 10s was “The House That Jack Built,” with a cover version of Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer” on the flip side. Aretha Franklin’s soulful interpretation hit the Top 40, just months after the original version.
Aretha Franklin’s Top 10 hits of the ‘70s were her versions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Spanish Harlem” followed by “Rock Steady,” “Day Dreaming,” and “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do).”
In the mid-‘80s she was back in the Top 10 with “Freeway of Love,” “Who’s Zoomin’ Who,” and scored her second number one with “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” as a duet with George Michael.
Sarah Dash, who gained fame as a member of the Blue Belles and Labelle, shared with Goldmine, “As long as I can remember, there was always gospel music and there was also Aretha Franklin singing “Never Grow Old.” Then from her secular albums, a song called “Skylark” on Columbia followed by “Respect,” which I will always have for her, on Atlantic where we were labelmates. I will always remember having “high tea” at The Plaza and Aretha inviting me to join her at her table. We chatted, she admired my glasses and invited me to her birthday party. I loved her birthday parties, always classy and fun and at The Ritz in New York City. Celebrities, politicians and preachers too, everyone was there to celebrate Aretha. Aretha Franklin was in a class of her own. She stood alone in recordings. She was royalty, she’s a child of God. What the two of us have in common is that we’re PKs, preacher kids, both of us raised in the church where we learned how to pray, sing gospel and secular music. But she reigns as the Queen of Music Vocals, period. When you know what you know, you know that there is only Aretha Franklin.”
Sarah Dash and Aretha Franklin, 2015, Aretha’s 73rd Birthday Party, Ritz Carlton, NYC, courtesy of Sarah Dash
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with giveaways, interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, as part of “Moments to Remember” at wvcr.com or iHeart Radio – search WVCR.