Friday 17 August 2018

Aretha Franklin RIP

I seem to be writing far too many obituaries  for musical greats these days. I don't think that any compare with Aretha Franklin in terms of sheer talent. When writing these obituaries, I always write about my personal relationship with the artist and their music and how it has affected me. It is fair to say that Aretha Franklin was one of my greatest musical influences. I first got into music in 1977 as a 14 year old punk rocker. The very first band I saw were the iconic Aussie punks The Saints, who were supporting The Ramones at The Roundhouse. I loved their raw, powerful sound. In October 1978, they released Prehistoric Sounds. I excitedly pre ordered it and when it arrived stuck it on the turntable. My first impression was really negative, I hated it and didn't even bother listening to the second side. It languished in my collection, unplayed and unloved until around late 1981 . I have always regularly pulled a random album from the collection and spun it. When I saw the album, I groaned. But then I thought "No, I'll give it a go". As I'd listened to some of the A Side, I thought I'd try the B side. I put it on and I thought "hey, this is OK". Then the final track came on. I'd never heard it before, but it was awesome. It started like a standard punk song with a guitar riff, but as the vocals came in, so did a barrage of brass. The song was Save Me. I was obsessed with it. It had never occurred to me that brass could work in a punk environment. I loved everything about it. I was just recovering from breaing up with someone who I thought was special. Two lines really struck home.

Love leaves you cold and hurt inside
These tears of mine, they are justified

As  a comic book nut, I was also transfixed by the references to "the caped crusader" and "the Green Hornet". I listened to it three times on the bounce. I thought "Kuepper and Bailey are geniuses" having put together such a great track. Then I looked at the label and was gobsmacked to see that it was written by Aretha and Caroline Franklin with Curtis Ousley. I was vaguely aware that Aretha was a good singer, but I'd never listened to her.

I thought it was worth taking a trip down town and getting one of her albums. The logical choice was "I never loved a man the way I loved you", the album which had Save Me on it.

In truth, I probably only bought it to be able to show off to my mates when we were having debates about obscure punk rock tracks. I rather sceptically went home, almost writing the narrative in my head as to why the Saints version was superior to Aretha's. I got in, made a cup of tea and put it on the turntable. I thought I'd start with side 2, as this had Save Me on it. It starts with Dr Feelgood. I was totally transfixed by this track. I was a bit of a fan of Dr Feelgood, the Canvey Island blues combo. I sort of expected a Feelgood style blast.

What I got was this


This was a totally different style of music to anything I'd ever listened to before and it was absolutely awesome. I think my jaw hit the floor. I'd sort of formed an ill informed opinion that Soul music was fairly trite and not for me. It opened my eyes. By the time it got to Save me, I was hooked. Given the other songs, I was amazed when the track started with the same guitar riff as The Saints. It became clear to me that if you have a singer like Aretha Franklin, you can do anything in your band. I was inspired. At the time my band had a girl singing, but she was vocally on a par with Madonna, I wanted Aretha. Of course, there is only one Aretha. I also wanted brass and better arrangements. Aretha made me see what was wrong with the music we were writing.

The album finishes with the old Sam Cooke Song "A change is gonna come".

I developed a mild obsession with this song. On the first listen, after Save Me, the first few bars really didn't do it for me. I didn't like the tinkly piano at all (I'm a guitarist). But I stuck with it. The song is an absolute masterclass in how to build a track. It also has a poweful message. I was determined to find out a bit more about Aretha. Her story was incredible. Daughter of a preacher, a mum at 12. A complicated personal life, drugs, drink. An amazing catalog of music, without peer.

I got to thinking about what I liked about Aretha and why I've always loved her but found the likes of Whitney Houston harder to get into. The thing about Aretha is that she's economical when she has to be and goes for it like a train when it is right. There is no showing off or pointless noodling. She always hits the spot and gets it right.

Perhaps the most recent thing I've listened to featuring Aretha was a remix of A deeper love. It just shows that her voice is completely timeless.
I always thought that calling Aretha "The Queen of Soul" was doing her a total injustice. She was so, so much more. I thought I'd pull together a little Spotify playlist. It finishes with her cover of Let it Be by The Beatles. Quite a fitting way to finish a playlist by a preachers daughter. Thanks Aretha, I can honestly say that you've enriched all our lives.

I hope you enjoy these

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