Considering she is still such an influence on so many others artists, Aretha Franklin’s own inspirations might have been a little overlooked. This Ace CD addresses that situation perfectly. The 24 R&B, soul and gospel recordings here, many of them performed by Aretha's favourite artists, helped influence and inspire her to become the great artist she is.
Aretha recorded a tremendous number of covers over the years. Her choices of the best songs to record in her own way were impeccable. ‘Respect’ is totally different to Otis Redding’s storming original and it established her as the female soul singer to beat for years to come. Likewise Don Covay’s See Saw’, which in her hands proved to be a bigger R&B hit than its writers’ own version.
An important influence on Aretha was Little Miss Cornshucks. Obscure to the general public, Ahmet Ertegun named her as his favourite blues singer of all time. Here is her recording of ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ from 1952, generally regarded as the first R&B version of this classic song. Aretha recorded the number for Columbia in 1962.
Aretha first heard Ray Charles’ version of ‘Drown In My Own Tears’ (originally cut by Lula Reed) on the radio one night after she had gone to bed. She said she heard his voice coming out of the dark and that she had never heard anything like that before. I’ve a soft spot for the version by the underestimated Jean Wells. Coincidentally Wells is featured here singing Clyde Otis’ ‘Sit Down And Cry’, later recorded by Aretha for her “This Girl’s In Love With You” album. From the same Calla label as Jean’s record comes ‘Prove It’ by the under-recorded Mary Wheeler from 1966, which Aretha cut a year after for the “Aretha Arrives” LP.
One of Aretha’s greatest influences was the gospel legend Clara Ward, featured here with ‘The Day Is Passed And Gone’, a song that was among the very first she covered, and sung by her at Clara’s funeral in 1973.
As often with Ace compilations an alternate, extended or album cut is used, not just securing sales to completists (join the club!), but giving an interesting slant on well-known or well-loved recordings. This collection is no exception, offering, for example, the stereo LP versions of Otis’s ‘Respect’ and Ben E King’s ‘Don’t Play That Song (You Lied)’, which features the verses in a different order to the single.
Other big names include Wilson Pickett with the tremendous ‘I’m In Love’ (Aretha considers Pickett to be one of the great soul singers, and vice versa, if you remember his comments about a party at her house in Only The Strong Survive), Bobby Womack, Howard Tate, Bobby Bland and Dinah Washington. The woman recently named the Greatest Singer of All Time by Rolling Stone magazine certainly has the best of taste.
BY JOHN MARRIOTT