This 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.
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.
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