RIP Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, singing with the angels
The legendary singer died on Thursday. We pick five iconic songs from her immaculate catalogue
Aretha Franklin, whose gospel-rooted singing and bluesy delivery earned her the title “the Queen of Soul”, died on Thursday. She was 76.
She died at her home in Detroit, surrounded by family and friends, according to a statement on behalf of Franklin's family from her longtime publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.
The “official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit,” the family statement said.
The singer left a gaping hole in the music industry, but also left a treasure trove of music that will live on for generations to come. Hard as it is to choose her best songs of all time, we have compiled five of the songs that helped to establish her as Queen of Soul.
Respect (1967)Say the name Aretha Franklin and the first track that comes to mind is probably Respect. What is arguably Franklin’s most famous song is actually an Otis Redding cover. She made it her own by turning it into a feminist anthem, deciding to spell out the title as the song climaxes and have her background singers, her “sisters”, repeatedly sing the provocative words, “Sock it to me.” In the ongoing debate about whether covers can eclipse original songs, Franklin definitively stole this one from Redding. In 2011, Rolling Stone named her version the fifth greatest song of all time, saying it established her as the Queen of Soul. Franklin demanded R-E-S-P-E-C-T and the world had no choice but to listen.
I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) (1986)This duet with George Michael is the Queen of Soul’s best-performing song on the charts in both the US and the UK. Peaking at No 1 in both countries, surprisingly it’s still her only song to reach the top of the charts in the UK. In the US it was her second and last No 1 hit after Respect. In his autobiography, George Michael wrote about being awestruck when working with Franklin. The song went on to become his first No 1 hit as a solo artist and his first Grammy win.
I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You) (1967)This is regarded as the song that established Franklin as a legend. The album with the same name, her 11th studio album, was produced by Atlantic Records, which she joined in 1966 after leaving Columbia. The move proved to be instrumental in establishing her career. The record company allowed her to write her own music and play the piano while her sisters sang backup, and encouraged the gospel influences from her childhood.
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (1968)Every other musical legend seems to have done a cover of this song. Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion, Mary J Blige and Adele have all taken a stab at it. Rod Stewart even explored what it meant to feel like “a natural man” in 1974. However, not many can reach the soaring heights of Franklin’s original. Carole King, who not only wrote the song with Gerry Goffin, but also released her own version in 1971, would attest to this. During Franklin’s performance at a tribute ceremony, King couldn’t contain her excitement, jumping up and down in her seat next to a tear-shedding Barack Obama.
Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves (1985)When this song was released in 1985, the second wave of feminism was receding into the history books but Franklin and the Eurythmics penned lyrics that addressed the issues of the movement. One of its main concerns was debunking the myth that women wanted to remain homemakers and were not interested in establishing professional careers. Lyrics such as “so we’re comin’ out of the kitchen”, along with the images of working women on the video, are a direct reference to the movement and what it stood for. Although the current fight for women’s rights is centred on the #MeToo movement, tracks like this one can help remind those at the frontlines that change is indeed possible. And what a great song to gain strength from!
Thank you to the Queen of Soul for giving us some of the greatest songs of all time. You will be missed.