Here’s Part 2 of my tribute mix to Aretha Franklin. A selection of my favourite uptempo tracks from right across her career. You can find Part 1 here:
Both a 20th and 21st century cultural icon, creating a legacy spanning over 6 decades and known all over the world simply by her first name: Aretha.
We’re never going to have an artist with a career as bountiful and constantly surprising as hers. And we’re unlikely to see another superstar as steeped in self-confidence at so many different stages of life, across as many genres. She changed where the stress fell in popular singing. You could glean a story from the lyrics but also hear it in the timbre and tone of her voice — agony, ecstasy and everything in between. “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” (Mary J. Blige)
And when Aretha Franklin is described as the most successful singer in history, this is not just a reference to the statistics, although she released 131 singles, 42 albums, entered the Billboard Charts 88 times, and won 18 Grammys. (the now-defunct female R&B vocal performance category seemed designed just for her; she won the first 8) What is meant above all when we talk of her success, is her influence as an artist.
In 1987, she was the first woman inducted into the 'Rock and Roll Hall of Fame', and in 2008 Rolling Stone put her in the No. 1 position among the “100 greatest singers of all time”. Aretha Franklin had the most students, one of the reasons being that she did not shy away from the popular and commercial, instead seeking it out like a pastor who loves to preach most when the church is full. “Music changes, and I’m gonna change right along with it” (Aretha Franklin)
Franklin found homes across many genres: From Gospel to Soul, Blues, Funk, Disco, Rock, Pop, House and even Opera not just a testament to the versatility of her music, but to how the world had been shaped by it. Early Eighties collaborations with Luther Vandross were a smooth slide into rare groove, a mid-Eighties makeover made her an MTV star, hip-hop acts from Pete Rock to Public Enemy mined her work for beats, 1994’s “A Deeper Love” made her a chart-topping modern house diva (a genre that long favoured big belting black voices), a collaboration with Lauryn Hill linked her to the burgeoning neo-soul movement and by 2014 she gracefully covered Adele.
Her music continues to be remixed and reworked today, a testament to her staying power and her music’s lasting legacy. I can safely say I've never done a gig without playing at least one of her cuts.
The vocal achievements of Aretha Franklin have informed much of modern music. Franklin’s powerful instrument can be heard across a recording career that spans 60 years. Her fingerprints are all over the history of popular music. An object lesson in how a singer can embody and define her time. a consummate story-teller; unpolished, raw and unbridled.
A long mooted biopic, that has been years in the works. Gives us something to look forward to and of course there's her expansive body of work that we can forever enjoy. Gone but never to be forgotten.
All R.E.S.P.E.C.T. To the Queen of Soul
Image by Andy Warhol from the 1986 album ‘Aretha’ which was the last thing he designed before his death the following year.
Track-list to follow