Tag Archives: Aretha Franklin

Rocks In The Attic #791: Aretha Franklin – ‘Rarities From The ‘60s’ (2018)

RITA#791The Amazing Grace film has been lost in development hell since it was shot in 1972. A problem with syncing the audio to the picture meant that it was shelved in the Warner Bros. vault for decades. There were attempts to release it in 2011 and 2015, prevented both time by Franklin suing the producer, Alan Elliot, for using her likeness without her permission. Franklin’s family arranged for the film to be completed and released after her death in 2018. I guess her family were less principled about the whole affair.

The film opens with the general pre-show hubbub of Los Angeles’ New Temple Missionary Baptist Church. The Queen of Soul is coming to record a live gospel record, over two nights, with the Southern Californian Community Choir. Director Sydney Pollack can be glimpsed talking to the crew, while the Reverend Dr. James Cleveland reminds everybody that they’re taking part in a religious service, before introducing Aretha up on stage. She floats down the aisle onto the stage and sits down at the piano. The second she starts singing, eyes closed, belting out her magical voice, it’s clear that this is something special.

RITA#791aMick Jagger and Charlie Watts, in L.A. to finish the recording of Exile On Main St, can be seen hanging out at the back of the hall. It’s not hard to imagine that they’re probably just as happy to see the duo of Bernie Purdie on drums and Chuck Rainey on bass as they are to see Aretha.

I’ve been looking for a copy of the album itself for as long as I’ve been collecting records, and have only ever come across scratched, beat-up copies. Considering it’s the best-selling gospel record of all time, I’m sure I’ll find a nice copy one day, and there’s always the Complete Recordings 4xLP box set if the hunt proves elusive.

This LP is a collection of demos and outtakes, presented as a bonus disc in Aretha’s Atlantic Records 1960s Collection box set from 2018. As always, it’s gold.

Hit: I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) (Demo)

Hidden Gem: The Fool On The Hill (Outtake)

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Rocks In The Attic #750: Aretha Franklin – ‘I Never Loved A Man Like I Love You’ (1967)

RITA#750This is far from being Aretha Franklin’s debut album, but it feels like the start of something. Released in 1967, as the first album of her contract with Atlantic Records, it’s actually her tenth studio album following her true debut on Columbia back in 1961.

Jerry Wexler, co-partner of Atlantic alongside Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, must have been rubbing his hands with glee as he produced the title track with Aretha and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section at FAME studios in Alabama. That song would be strong enough to carry a record of lesser material – as seemed to be the norm throughout much of the 1960s, particularly with regard to soul and R&B releases – but Aretha was only just getting started.

The album kicks off with Respect, her cover of Otis Redding’s song from 1965’s Otis Blue. I seldom believe that a cover version can better the original, but Aretha’s version of the song completely eclipses Redding’s original. It’s so good, it makes his version sound like the weaker cover song.

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Having recorded the song at Atlantic Records’ New York studios (but retaining the Muscle Shoals studio musicians), co-producer Arif Mardin is credited with overseeing Aretha’s rearranged version of the song. It’s clear that magic was being captured during the session. “I’ve been in many studios in my life, but there was never a day like that,” Mardin says. “It was like a festival. Everything worked just right.”

Fifty years on, the song has been diluted somewhat by its overuse in advertising commercials, films and TV shows, but I like to think that some of its original impact remains as an anthem for both the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements.

Hit: Respect

Hidden Gem: Save Me

Rocks In The Attic #365: Various Artists – ‘The Blues Brothers (O.S.T.)’ (1980)

RITA#365On a family holiday when I was around 14, we drove down to Newquay in Cornwall, and stayed in a Bed & Breakfast on the seafront. On our first day, in fact only twenty minutes after we had arrived, we walked around to the parade of shops next to the B&B. In one of the shops was a wall of second-hand cassettes. I bought this album on tape, together with Toys In The Attic by Aerosmith. Both cassettes became not only the soundtrack to that holiday, but they became first favourites that have never left me.

I love the music of The Blues Brothers just as much as I love the film itself. There’s an unfortunate pigeon-holing that seems to go on though, that resigns both the film and the soundtrack to the camp depths of party entertainment; cheesy music for poor people to sing karaoke to. It isn’t seen as the cultural landmark it should be regarded as, which is a shame. The film did so much for African American music, giving it a much needed shot in the arm. Who knows what would have happened had the film not been released – fewer James Brown records on the streets might have meant there wouldn’t have been as much sampling of Funky Drummer when hip-hop hit. That Clyde Stubblefield groove might have been taken up by the drum patterns of some non-funky white drummers instead. What a horrible thing to imagine.

What a rhythm section – Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn on bass, Steve Cropper on guitar (Steve ‘The Colonel’ Cropper as he’s referred to in the film, although I’ve never seen that nickname anywhere else) – both from Booker T. & The M.G.s – and Willie Hall, from the Bar-Kays, on drums. The brass section, from TV’s Saturday Night Live, are also fantastic although it’s a shame the Memphis Horns weren’t part of the band. I guess it might have been a little too Memphis, had that been the case, and while I would have loved it, the SNL horns were an integral part of the band from its earliest days as a John Belushi / Dan Aykroyd skit on Saturday Night Live.

Where else can you hear Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and James Brown singing on the same record? Even if you take these guys out, the songs performed by just the Blues Brothers band are worth the price of admission alone. I could listen to a song like She Caught The Katy all day, preferably while driving around in an old police cruiser. Just fix the cigarette lighter.

Hit: Everybody Needs Somebody To Love

Hidden Gem: She Caught The Katy