We at SoulTracks love us some lists. That’s actually a weakness that afflicts all of us media types – especially in the Internet age. We love lists because you the consumer love them. We at SoulTracks give the people what they want, so our visitors can find lists of greatest songs, albums, slow jams, and disco and gospel songs for the last five decades. The writers compile personal year-end lists of our three or four favorite albums to be posted on the site in late December. The site is currently taking nominations for the greatest male vocalists and it’s a safe bet that we’ll be doing one for the greatest female singers sooner rather than later. The one thing that we haven’t done is put together one of these Mount Rushmores that have become the rage in the sports world over the couple of months.
Listening to The Queen of Soul, the 87 song compilation of Aretha Franklin recordings from her great creative period at Atlantic Records from the late 1960s through the mid 1970s, it becomes clear that Franklin has to among any quartet of artists whose visage would be etched in digital stone.
In many respects, The Queen of Soul serves as a reminder that greatness is equally a result of time, chance and talent. There is no doubt that Franklin was and is a once-in-a-generation talent. Her vocal and piano playing talents were honed in her father’s Baptist church, and she became a top draw on the gospel circuit in the late 1950s, so she could have been a solid career as a gospel singer. However, Aretha wanted to follow her mentor, Sam Cooke, into the secular music world, and she landed a record deal at Columbia Records. Franklin actually had a respectable run at Columbia singing the pop and jazz infused R&B and songbook tunes.
Aretha didn’t make my Mount Rushmore by singing the remakes of “Rock-a-bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” that CBS had her doing, and most people think that the label didn’t get the most out of Franklin because they neglected her gospel music roots.
Atlantic learned by signing Ray Charles that the blues/rhythm and blues/gospel fusion was gold mine and that formula led to Aretha hits such as “Ain’t No Way,” “I Never Loved A Man,’ “Doctor Feelgood” and “Since You’ve Been Gone” and so many other tunes essential to the Franklin songbook.
However, Atlantic and Franklin included the gospel influence to the jazz, R&B and pop chops Aretha refined at Columbia. It’s easy to forget that Franklin remained a great jazz singer during her time at Atlantic and this magisterial collection serves as a reminder of that. Disc 2 includes lush and swinging arrangements of “Ramblin.” The soul and gospel influences that Franklin brought to her covers of pop tunes made her remakes memorable. That can be seen in her renditions of “Say a Little Prayer,” as well as “Spanish Harlem,” “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and “Don’t Play That Song.”
Franklin’s has an abiding love of gospel and her ability to wring every bit of power and praise out of a gospel number is unparalleled as is heard on live performances of “Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Precious Memories.”
Compilations often have omissions that diminish the purchaser’s listening. However, The Queen of Soul has all of the memorable songs from Franklin’s halcyon days at Atlantic. The box set also serves as a complete documentation of her musical diversity, as well as her power as a live entertainer. The Queen of Soul stands as confirmation that Franklin is musical royalty and one of the top singers of the rock era. Highly Recommended
By Howard Dukes