Aretha Franklin – Aretha: Lady Soul (1968)

AllMusic Review: Appearing after a blockbuster debut and a sophomore set that was rather disappointing (in comparison), 1968’s Lady Soul proved Aretha Franklin, the pop sensation, was no fluke. Her performances were more impassioned than on her debut, and the material just as strong, an inspired blend of covers and originals from the best songwriters in soul and pop music. The opener, “Chain of Fools,” became the biggest hit, driven by a chorus of cascading echoes by Franklin and her bedrock backing vocalists, the Sweet Impressions, plus the unforgettable, earthy guitar work of guest Joe South. The album’s showpiece, though, was “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” a song written expressly for her by Brill Building pop stalwarts Gerry Goffin and Carole King, based on a title coined by producer Jerry Wexler. One of the landmark performances in pop music, the song floats serenely through the verses until, swept up by Ralph Burns’ stirring string arrangement again and again, Franklin opens up on the choruses with one of the most transcendent vocals of her career. And just as she’d previously transformed a soul classic (Otis Redding’s “Respect”) into a signature piece of her own, Franklin courageously reimagined songs by heavyweights James Brown, Ray Charles, and the Impressions. Brown’s “Money Won’t Change You” is smooth and kinetic, her testifying constantly reinforced by interjections from the Sweet Inspirations. Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” a 1965 civil-rights anthem and a hit for the Impressions, is taken at a slower pace than the original; after a quiet verse, Franklin lets loose amidst a magisterial brass arrangement by Arif Mardin. Powered by three hit singles (each nested in the upper reaches of the pop Top Ten), Lady Soul became Aretha Franklin’s second gold LP and remained on the charts for over a year. — John Bush

Track Listing:

A Side

1. “Chain of Fools” (Don Covay) 2:46
2. “Money Won’t Change You” (James Brown, Nat Jones) 2:08
3. “People Get Ready” (Curtis Mayfield) 3:42
4. “Niki Hoeky” (Jim Ford, Lolly Vegas, Pat Vegas) 2:31
5. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” (Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Jerry Wexler) 2:44

B Side

1. “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone” (Aretha Franklin, Ted White) 2:25
2. “Good to Me as I Am to You” (Aretha Franklin, Ted White) 3:56
3. “Come Back Baby” (Walter Davis) 2:25
4. “Groovin'” (Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati) 2:57
5. “Ain’t No Way” (Carolyn Franklin) 4:17

Schill Score: 9.25/10

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Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967)

I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You is the eleventh studio album by American singer Aretha Franklin. The record was released on March 10, 1967, by Atlantic Records. The record went to number 2 on the Billboard album chart and number 1 on the magazine’s Top R&B Selling chart. It was certified Gold by the RIAA in 1967. It received a number 83 ranking on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, 84 in a 2012 revised list and 13 in the 2020 edition. (2008). When Rolling Stone listed the “Women in Rock: 50 Essential Albums” in 2002 and again 2012, the album listed at number one. The album included two top-10 singles: “Respect” was a number-1 single on Billboard’s Hot 100 Pop singles chart, and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” peaked at number 9. The album was rated the 10th best album of the 1960s by Pitchfork.

Track Listing:

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. “Respect” Otis Redding 2:29
2. “Drown in My Own Tears” Henry Glover 4:07
3. “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” Ronnie Shannon 2:51
4. “Soul Serenade” King Curtis, Luther Dixon 2:39
5. “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream” Aretha Franklin, Ted White 2:23
6. “Baby, Baby, Baby” Aretha Franklin, Carolyn Franklin 2:54

Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Length
7. “Dr. Feelgood” Aretha Franklin, Ted White 3:23
8. “Good Times” Sam Cooke 2:10
9. “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” Dan Penn, Chips Moman 3:16
10. “Save Me” Aretha Franklin, Carolyn Franklin, King Curtis 2:21
11. “A Change Is Gonna Come” Sam Cooke 4:20

AllMusic Review: While the inclusion of “Respect” — one of the truly seminal singles in pop history — is in and of itself sufficient to earn I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You classic status, Aretha Franklin’s Atlantic label debut is an indisputable masterpiece from start to finish. Much of the credit is due to producer Jerry Wexler, who finally unleashed the soulful intensity so long kept under wraps during her Columbia tenure; assembling a crack Muscle Shoals backing band along with an abundance of impeccable material, Wexler creates the ideal setting to allow Aretha to ascend to the throne of Queen of Soul, and she responds with the strongest performances of her career. While the brilliant title track remains the album’s other best-known song, each cut on I Never Loved a Man is touched by greatness; covers of Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears” and Sam Cooke’s “Good Times” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” are on par with the original recordings, while Aretha’s own contributions — “Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream,” “Baby, Baby, Baby,” “Save Me,” and “Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)” — are perfectly at home in such lofty company. A soul landmark. — Jason Ankeny

Schill Score: 9/10

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