Aretha Franklin, often dubbed the “Queen of Soul”, released her award-winning album ‘I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You’ in March 1967. Although Rolling Stone magazine gave it a slightly negative review when it first came out, they have since ranked it as number one on their “Women in Rock: 50 Essential Albums” list, and Pitchfork labelled it the 10th best album of the 60s.
The record features two top 10 singles, including the iconic track ‘Respect’, which charted at number one on Billboard, and ‘I Never Loved a Man (Like I Love You)’, which climbed to number nine. It is arguably Franklin’s most powerful and significant LP.
After no success at Columbia Records, Franklin recorded her 11th studio album with Atlantic. The album was produced and heavily influenced by famous rhythm and blues powerhouse Jerry Wexler, who was behind some of the most well-known songs in music history, including those performed by the likes of Ray Charles, Etta James and Led Zeppelin.
Wexler initially signed Franklin to the label in 1966 in an attempt to jump-start her career. She later recalled in a 2016 radio interview that she was in a room with him and was advised to “just sit down and play”. Shortly afterwards, she recorded the song ‘I Never Loved a Man (Like I Love You)’, written by Ronnie Shannon. The single was described by music critic Peter Guralnick as one of “the most momentous takes in the history of rhythm and blues”.
However, the most recognizable track of the album is Franklin’s revolutionary cover of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’. Described by Rolling Stone as a “slow fire of ferocious sexuality”, it became an instant battle cry for the women’s and civil rights movements. Although it may be interpreted as having a powerful message, Franklin suggested in a radio interview with NPR music that it was originally penned in a far more general sense: “It was about saying I’m going to give you respect and I’d like to have that respect back or I expect respect to be given back.” But what made this track iconic was her soulful and demanding spelling out of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and the addition of backing vocalists. The singers can be heard repeatedly throughout the song chanting “sock it to me”; one of Franklin’s most infamous lines, which she wrote with her sister Carolyn. She later explained to NPR music that the line was misunderstood and it meant nothing sexual. It was “just a cliché line… It just kind of perpetuated itself and went on from there.”
After the success of ‘I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You’, Franklin performed at the funeral of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. In 1972, she released ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ and the live gospel album ‘Amazing Grace’. The latter went on to become the highest selling record of her career and the highest selling gospel record of all time.
Although planning to retire from live performances at the end of this year at age of 75, Franklin will not be leaving the music industry just yet, soon to be releasing a new album that includes collaborations with Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Lionel Ritchie. The release date for this project hasn’t been announced yet.
Boasting one of the most successful music careers of all time, the songstress has sold over 75 million records, and received 18 Grammy Awards and a presidential medal. However, it’s her cover of ‘Respect’, released 50 years ago, that keeps reminding us why she’s considered the Queen of Soul.