There aren’t many duds in the entire six-decade catalog, but here are 10 songs that helped define the Queen of Soul’s career.
► “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”: So sensual, so feminine, so strong. Franklin had a cold when she recorded this Carole King number in 1967, a track whose stately verses blossom into a majestic chorus. King later called Franklin’s rendition “the highest level of excellence.”
► “Climbing Higher Mountains”: The wider public is most familiar with the radio hits, but Franklin’s best-selling work actually came via the 1972 gospel album “Amazing Grace,” recorded with Rev. James Cleveland live at a Los Angeles church. The spiritual power of Franklin’s Detroit church roots soar through in this anointed, ecstatic gospel epic.
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► “The Weight”: A powerhouse vocal from Aretha and greasy slide guitar by Duane Allman transform the Band’s classic into a swinging slice of soul transcendence.
► “Baby I Love You”: This is SOUL. Franklin’s voice and piano ride the thick, sultry grooves provided by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section on the single that followed “Respect” to the chart tops and locked in Aretha’s Queen of Soul coronation.
► “Chain of Fools”: Joe South’s shimmering guitar lick opens another soul masterpiece from Aretha, whose biting delivery conveys the irresistible temptations of dangerous romance. The Sweet Inspirations’ sassy backing vocals are icing on the cake.
► “Think”: Franklin’s emphatic declarations of “freedom!” top this 1968 hit, with lyrics ostensibly directed to a lover but quietly underlined with the social and political consciousness that the young star symbolized.
► “Day Dreaming”: Another Franklin original — written for the Temptations’ Dennis Edwards — this sophisticated, supple track is a dreamy, romantic ride through the clouds. It’s sonic aphrodisiac, with jazzy organ provided by Donny Hathaway.
► “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”: As Franklin’s first single for Atlantic Records, this 1967 song was the red carpet rolled out to introduce the world to the Queen of Soul. It’s a smoldering merger of gospel and R&B with a performance from 24-year-old Franklin that defines passion.
► “Call Me”: Perhaps the sweetest of Aretha’s great love songs. Gorgeous and underlined with tasteful strings, the Queen of Soul penned this 1970 ballad after witnessing a young couple’s conversation in New York’s Central Park.
► “Respect”: It’s the anthem that will forever be attached to Aretha Franklin’s name. This 1967 release, Franklin’s first to top the pop charts, was far more than hit single: Franklin transformed Otis Redding’s plea for domestic peace into a potent call for dignity on a far grander scale.
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