Whether she was singing a cover or an original, you knew as soon as she opened her mouth that the song was meant to be hers. Aretha Franklin had the ability to lay down vocals and command a song with the utmost ease, and yet, at the same time, give into a melody and ride it without any friction. Sadly, last Thursday, Aretha took her place next to the many late great artists who have passed away in the last couple of years. And just like them, she will be missed.
Aretha was always uniquely herself, but there was something universal in her natural talent. Like another artist of the same era (David Bowie), she reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s philosophy on nature and Nature; we as humans are constantly trying to match our natural instincts (nature) to the rhythm of the earth around us (Nature). Aretha’s vocals were Nature incarnated in audio bliss. Her vocals contained a lexicon of complex emotions relayed in solidarity and passion so you were never confused about what she was trying to convey in a song.
There are so many things I could say about her music and talent collectively, but instead of droning on, I thought I’d pick out a few songs that truly exemplify her power as an artist.
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
Regardless of the type of woman you are, your interests or taste in men or women, there is something so primal about this song. It’s not about submission or pleasing a man/partner, rather it’s more about understanding oneself and letting go in the face of love. Aretha gets get to the root of this feeling and magnifies it so we can relate to it instantaneously.
“A Change is Gonna Come”
Aretha’s version of “A Change Is Gonna Come” is truly breathtaking. Her voice captures intricate emotions that unfold alongside a bittersweet, yet powerful melody. It is no secret Aretha had a magnificent voice, but her ability to appeal to our ethos and pathos at the same time with the simplest inflections makes her vocals unparalleled.
“Jump to It”
Just as easily as she could mesmerize you, she could make you get up and move. “Jump to It” is a perfect example of the latter. It’s fun, flirty, powerful and strong. There is a playfulness that’s so infectious, and if you’re not at the very least tapping your toes by the end of it, I’d be inclined to assume you don’t get music. “Jump to It” puts a smile on your face every time, and I cannot praise Aretha enough for singing a song with such jubilance. It’s a song that does not care about your opinion because it’s got better things to get to.
With “Respect,” Aretha turned Otis Redding’s song into a timeless feminine power anthem while also solidifying her already illustrious career. Aretha’s soulful rendition takes no excuses and will not let anyone or anything deny her of the respect she knows she deserves. It’s a song that will never die, and it will always empower young men and women around the world to fight for equality and R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
“Day Dreaming” is the vocal representation of pure soulfulness. It is smooth, hits perfectly in the pocket of the groove and is all too enticing. Aretha’s vocals ride effortlessly on the melody, and she seems to enjoy every turn the instrumentals take. This song is also timeless in its arrangement. It ebbs and flows so nicely, and the chorus and backing vocals are warm and comforting.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water”
Aretha’s version of Simon and Garfunkel’s, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” takes the song to new territory. It transcends the original version to become something earthly and grounded. It’s still soothing and healing, but it is relayed with so much passion and compassion, you feel utterly moved by it. I have never heard a version of this song that even comes close to comparing to Aretha’s cover, and the intro she adds to it helps make the song entirely hers.
I will always hear this song and think of Aretha’s cameo in “The Blues Brothers.” Her performance, whether it was on stage or on screen, was bright, evocative and perfect in every delivery. “The Blues Brothers” features a large cast of prominent musicians, and there is no way a movie about Blues and Soul music could be complete without Aretha Franklin.
I’m sure many Aretha fans have their top songs, and I’m sure if you compare lists they will have some similarities and differences, which to me is the most beautiful gift a musician can give the world. Rest in Peace Aretha Franklin. I’ll be daydreaming of your music always.