Tag Archives: Aretha Franklin

A mea culpa for Aretha

2016 was a rough year. Before February was over, David Bowie had died, as had Paul Kantner, Maurice White, Otis Clay and Glenn Frey, among others.

So I put together a series of posts intended to show appreciation for some music greats while they were still with us: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tina Turner. Then I followed up with a post listing four more performers to be appreciated while they were still with us.

In none of those posts was there a mention of Aretha Franklin, who also was still with us at the time, and who certainly was worthy of appreciation. Now that she’s gone, I feel bad that I didn’t properly appreciate her tremendous talent.

In the wake of Aretha’s passing, Sirius XM turned its Soul Town channel into an Aretha Franklin tribute channel. For the past 11 days, it’s been all Aretha, all the time. I’ve heard deep cuts that go well beyond any of my few Aretha records.

After 11 days of Aretha, I’m exhausted. She has worn me out.

Ike and Tina proclaimed “We nevah, evah, do nothing nice and easy.”

Well, Aretha nevah, evah, did anything nice and easy, either.

Aretha testified! Aretha brought forth that gale force of a gospel voice in song after song, in style after style, in decade after decade. Aretha was relentless.

After 11 days of Aretha, I find myself in the same place as my friend Greg, who wrote this over at Echoes in the Wind on the day after she died.

“So why do I feel I have I so little to say? Because Aretha Franklin as a subject for eulogy, memoir or memorial is too damned big. She towers over the music world in a way that few artists do. So I don’t know where to start or to end or even what to put in or leave out.” 

I’ll try. Here is my testimony.

I first heard Aretha testify in the late ’60s, perhaps while listening to WLS radio out of Chicago as we drove around southern Wisconsin with our older cousins during the summer.

Perhaps I first saw Aretha testify while watching a variety show, the kind my dad loved. I would have been 10, 11, maybe 13. Was it two nights after Christmas 1967, when Aretha sang “Respect” on “The Kraft Music Hall” with Woody Allen as the host? Was it Saturday night, Nov. 2, 1968, when Aretha appeared on “The Hollywood Palace” with Sammy Davis Jr. delivering a most memorable introduction? Was it Friday night, Oct. 9, 1970, when Aretha sang “I Say A Little Prayer” on “The Tom Jones Show” and duetted with Tom?

“Spanish Harlem” was the first Aretha song I came to know well. I was 14 when that came out in the late summer of 1971, a year I spent glued to my AM radio, listening to WOKY radio out of Milwaukee.

Then Aretha fell off my radar until I was in my 20s. I dug her in “The Blues Brothers” in 1980 — as did everyone else — and then she roared back onto the charts in 1985. I loved Eurythmics, so of course I loved Aretha’s duet with Annie Lennox on “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves.”

About that time, I bought “Aretha’s Gold,” a greatest-hits comp from 1969, the stuff I knew from radio and TV. For probably 20 years, that was the only Aretha record I had. Then I sold it and started collecting and exploring some of her great LPs on Atlantic. Those are my records at the top of this mea culpa.

And now, Aretha testifies.

“Son Of A Preacher Man” and “The Weight,” Aretha Franklin, from “This Girl’s In Love With You,” 1970. Duane Allman plays guitar on “The Weight.”

 

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Filed under August 2018, Sounds

An 18th-century hymn done with soul

Did you know George Harrison wrote “My Sweet Lord” but that Billy Preston recorded it first in 1970?

Neither did I until I read Matthew Bolin’s fine piece, “The 10 Best Cover Songs (You Didn’t Know Were Covers)” over at Popdose earlier tonight.

Not to get all preachy on you, but as I listened, it seemed an appropriate selection for this weekend. It has a nice gospel vibe.

I’m far from knowledgeable about gospel music, and I’m not particularly reverent, but I do enjoy exploring the funk and soul aspects of gospel music.

However, the progressive but predominately white mainstream church we attend rarely explores gospel music, and when it does, it rolls out the same few songs on the same few occasions. Apparently we can dig gospel music only when Martin Luther King Jr. Day draws near. But that is another issue for another day.

Perhaps some day we’ll hear this. It’s been one of my favorites for years. It still delivers chills.

“Oh Happy Day,” the Edwin Hawkins Singers, from “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord,” 1968. The LP is out of print, but the song is available digitally. This was recorded live in 1967 at Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley, California.

Dorothy Combs Morrison is the lead singer. She was in her early 20s at the time. The rest of the Edwin Hawkins Singers also were young, ranging from their late teens to mid-20s.

The LP originally was to be released only locally, but it got a worldwide release after “Oh Happy Day” became a smash on San Francisco radio in 1969.

Did you know “Oh Happy Day” is a reworking of an English hymn that dates to the 18th century? Neither did I. Here’s another version.

“Oh Happy Day,” Aretha Franklin with Mavis Staples, from “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” 1987. This LP also is out of print, but the song is available digitally. This was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit in late July 1987.

(Curiously, my copy of this song is from “Joy To The World,” a 2006 CD that was marketed as a Christmas release. However, only half of its 10 cuts are Christmas songs. Go figure.)

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Filed under April 2012, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 10

When we started these 12 days of Christmas, I noted that in writing the Three Under the Tree series for the last three years, I picked up a bunch of old Christmas vinyl and CDs, more for you than for me.

In so doing, there were a bunch of records that had more misses than hits. Most of them were used, so there wasn’t a lot of money wasted.

This year, I bought only one Christmas CD, one I’d been seeking for a while. I bought it new, and it turned out to be another one with more misses than hits. So it goes.

Rarely do I come across a Christmas record that doesn’t have something worth hearing. I can think of a couple, but there’s no need to name names.

We’re here to put some nice things in your Christmas stocking, so hope you will enjoy these tunes from records that had some nice moments.

“Christmas Time,” the Mighty Blue Kings, from “The Christmas Album,” 2000. This Chicago group covers a tune by West Coast bluesman Jimmy McCracklin.

“Christmas Is A Special Day,” Fats Domino, from “Christmas Gumbo,” 1993. It’s out of print as such, but is available as “Christmas Is A Special Day,” a 2006 CD re-release with a different cover. Fats wrote this charming little hymn and does it in — what else? — a laid-back New Orleans style.

“We Four Kings (Little Drummer Boy),” the Blue Hawaiians, from “Christmas On Big Island,” 1995. Let a little surf wash into your Christmas.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Shawn Colvin, from “A Different Kind of Christmas,” 1994. It’s out of print. A lovely, low-key version.

“Merry Christmas Darling,” Deana Carter, from “Father Christmas,” 2001. What makes this cover of the Carpenters song so remarkable is its acoustic arrangement with Carter’s father, veteran Nashville session man Fred Carter, on guitar. Deana Carter sings this in a higher register than did Karen Carpenter — and that may not be for everyone — but she nicely complements her dad. Fred Carter died earlier this year.

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” the Whispers, from “Happy Holidays To You,” 1979. (The buy link is to a 2001 import CD.) Off the same album that delivered “Funky Christmas,” this is a smooth, jazzy arrangement clearly from the late ’70s.

“Joy To The World,” Aretha Franklin, 1994, from “Joy To The World,” 2006. This is an odd little compilation of Christmas songs, gospel songs and show tunes recorded over 30-plus years. This cut features Aretha backed by the Fame Freedom Choir, from the soundtrack to the 1994 remake of “Miracle on 34th Street.” That is about the only nice thing we have to say about any remake of the 1947 classic, long one of our favorite films.

“What Christmas Means To Me,” Darlene Love, from “It’s Christmas, Of Course,” 2007. A cover of the Motown song done first by Stevie Wonder.

“Christmas Is,” Lou Rawls, from “Merry Christmas Ho Ho Ho,” 1967. It’s out of print. This tune starts out with a swinging big-band arrangement, then has Lou channeling Santa Claus midway through before wrapping up with some smooth nightclub cheer. This Percy Faith tune never sounded so good.

“Merry Christmas Baby,” Melissa Etheridge, from “A New Thought For Christmas,” 2008. Etheridge lets it rip on this Charles Brown blues tune.

“Christmas Celebration,” Roomful of Blues, from “Roomful of Christmas,” 1997. The B.B. King version may be more familiar, but this take by the veteran East Coast group is pretty good.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time,” Pete Jolly, from “Something Festive!” 1968. Long out of print. This is a Christmas sampler from A&M Records. It was sold at B.F. Goodrich tire dealers in 1968. This cut is a cool, stylish, upbeat rendition by the California jazz pianist. (You’ll also find it on “Cool Yule: The Swinging Sound of Christmas,” a UK compilation released in 2004.)

“Blue Christmas,” Ann and Nancy Wilson, from “A Very Special Christmas 2,” 1992. Not a big fan of this tune, which everyone associates with Elvis, but this is a pretty good version. Melissa Etheridge also does it justice.

“What Child Is This,” Reverend Horton Heat, from “We Three Kings,” 2005. An upbeat yet moody take — it feels a little like Morricone — on a song usually done with much reverence.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010