Occasionally there is a song, album or artist that is just bigger than life. I think all of those applies with today’s record, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Not surprisingly, this album comes in very high on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, at #13. This classic is also the #3 album on Top 10 Soul albums of all time, as rated by digitaldreamdoor.com. This was her first album on Atlantic Records, and features one of the most famous songs in popular music history.
Originally written and performed by Otis Redding, “Respect” remains an anthem for all of those who have been treated unfairly or without the basic dignity and yes, respect, we all deserve. Regardless of skin color, gender, appearance, background, religion, sexual orientation, or any other component of our identity, Aretha gives everyone an anthem for the ages that speaks up loud and proud. An artist of her stature has multiple “signature” songs, but her take on Redding’s “Respect” may be at the top of that list and is an unbeatable way to kick off any album.
Of all the artists on this list, there may not be another who commands such universal appreciation and adoration across the industry, so it feels a little ridiculous even trying to apply critical discussion to the rest of this album. A mixture of originals and well-selected covers, Aretha is at the top of her unmatched game here, with a great collection to showcase her greatness. “Drown in My Own Tears” takes you to church, and if you don’t feel something listening to this song, I don’t think I can help you. There is a more subtle coolness to the title track, but it just hits you with a hammer of urgency and passion that is immeasurable. If you listen to the upbeat track “Good Times”, I’m pretty sure James Taylor had to be listening to this right before he wrote “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”. The similarities in tempo and melody are uncanny, at least to me.
As if this album didn’t already pack a wallop, it closes with another home run version of Sam Cooke’s epic “A Change is Gonna Come”. Some people don’t realize how talented Aretha was on the piano in addition to her amazing voice, and just as when I listened to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding sing this song, I can only begin to imagine what this song means to every African-American who has had to deal directly with our shameful and horrific treatment of their presence in this country for most of their lives. Unlike Cooke and Redding, at least Aretha was able to live a full life and witness some of the much-needed progress, although as we watch the legal proceedings in Minnesota and witness daily, this journey is far from complete.
With an album of this magnitude, ratings don’t matter. I’m just grateful we were all able to be blessed by Aretha Franklin, and have music like this that will live on forever.