I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
The Queen of Soul
The beginning of Aretha Franklin's "Respect" is one of those pop-culture moments that's been played so often it barely registers anymore. Pay attention next time, because it remains a head-swiveling hall-of-fame entrance. Before she even utters a word, you can feel Franklin rearing back, gathering momentum for the knockout punch. When she actually delivers the challenge of that first line—"What you want, baby, I got it"—she connects with devastating force. The urgency in her voice serves notice to all that someone special has arrived.
Propelled by the gritty Muscle Shoals rhythm section (and her own terse piano chording), Franklin is out to flatten all doubt about her prowess as a lover while, crucially, collecting her "propers" as a woman. It takes her about half a verse to accomplish that; for the rest of this three-minute throwdown, she sings at the top of her range, stringing together jaw-droppingly brilliant ad-libs like a boxer who doesn't know when to stop hitting.
"Respect" was written and originally sung by Otis Redding (see p. 636). Franklin's version, recorded during her first sessions for Atlantic Records, leans a bit harder on the message—she sings it both as a broad affirmation of self-worth and a warning. Woe to the man who does not appreciate this woman. The song not only hit the top of the R&B and pop charts, it became a cultural touchstone, invoked by feminists and those involved in the civil rights movement, among others.
"Respect," track one on Franklin's Atlantic Records debut, is the song that propelled her to the throne marked "Queen of Soul." The remaining material on this album, which is often described as the greatest soul album of all time, helped her stay there. Franklin follows the radioactive hit with a steady, remarkably poised version of Ray Charles's "Drown in My Own Tears," then personalizes the confessional title track and several Southern soul standbys ("Do Right Woman, Do Right Man") before closing with Sam Cooke's prayerful "A Change Is Gonna Come." All of it vibrates with the heady intensity Franklin summons in the opening seconds of "Respect."
Released: 1967, Atlantic
Key Tracks: "Respect," "A Change Is Gonna Come," "Drown in My Own Tears," "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man."
Catalog Choice: Lady Soul
Next Stop: Ruth Brown: Miss Rhythm
After That: Candi Staton: I'm Just a Prisoner
Book Pages: 288–289