50 Aretha Franklin Songs You Better Have…Or Else

Posted October 28, 2013 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

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“A Rose Is Still a Rose”
(1998, #26 pop)
Writer: Lauryn Hill, Brad Houser, Brandon Aly, Edie Brickell, John W. Bush, Kenny Withrow
Producer: Lauryn Hill
from the album A Rose Is Still a Rose

Lauryn Hill jumps in to her songwriter’s closet to hand Aretha a “comeback” single. Inside “A Rose” is a set of lyrics that works as a spiritual guide for insecure little girls trying to find their way through the game of love. It’s far from being as good as Aretha’s finest and she’s not really in great voice, but the comeback single – soaring into the Top 40 in late 1998 – serves as an important reminder: Aretha, even on hipper contemporary R&B, hip-hop beats and even some vintage sample (“What I Am”), has staying power.

“Another Night”
(1985, #22 pop)
Writer: Beppe Cantroelli, Roy Freeland
Producer: Narada Michael Walden
from the album Who’s Zoomin’ Who


By the mid-80’s, Narada Michael Walden’s productions were becoming more of the pop kind, a far distance from what he played with on his own solo albums earlier in his career. But none of that stopped Ree Ree from injecting her dramatic Sunday morning belting into Walden’s concoctions. “Another Night,” an often overlooked gem from Aretha’s million-selling Who’s Zoomin’ Who LP, does a good job in stacking up Aretha’s testifying with a soulful chorus of backing vocals and an appetizing rock-pop arrangement.

“Soul Serenade”

Writer: Curtis Ousley, Luther Dixon
Producer: Jerry Wexler
from the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You


Another standout gem off of Aretha’s debut album with Atlantic, “Soul Serenade” was a tune first heard as an instrumental in 1964 on Atlantic sax man King Curtis. But leave it to ReeRee to revise the track using soulful bottom, a bluesy horn call-and-response section and a set of lyrics that almost seems to be all hers. Because Curtis was the main architect of the offering, Franklin didn’t get a songwriter’s credit. It may explain why Ahmet Ertugen never green lit the song as a radio single. Because it was originally released and published under the arms of Capitol Records, there was just way too much red tape on its back.

“Jimmy Lee”

(1987, #28 pop)
Writer: Narada Michael Walden, Lisa Walden, Preston Glass, Jeffrey Cohen
Producer: Narada Michael Walden
from the album Aretha


After a fifty second prelude centered around gospel-styled textures and Aretha’s man-loving testifying, “Jimmy Lee” starts to strut like a modern-age “Jimmy Mack.” The coincidental in titles is easy to pinpoint, but it was Narada Michael Walden finds a creative way of paying homage to her Hitsville hometown without ever attending the Berry Gordy University. Still, there are a number of Luther remnants in the grooves, thanks to the tubular backing vocals and her occasional orgasmic outbursts. No wonder the track vaulted to number two on the R&B singles chart.

“Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream”

Writer: Aretha Franklin, Ted White
Producer: Jerry Wexler
from the album I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You


Things start up with a lounge jazz salsa before it waltzes into a feisty chorus cranks up showcasing the soulful homework of Emily “Cissy” Houston and her Newark-based Sweet Inspirations. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Band are also obviously exploring unique avenues musically with their foray into Copacabana territory. Even with the lyrical snafu of Aretha and the backing singers (“lose this dream” vs. “lose my dream”), the song is a brilliant portrait of a blooming Aretha preparing to conquer the world of pop music.

“Here We Go Again”
(1998, #76 pop)
Producer: Jermaine Dupri
Writer: Troy Lee Broussard, Jermaine Dupri, Wayne Garfield, Trey Lorenz, Mauro Malavasi, David Romani
from the album A Rose Is Still a Rose


So So Def producer Jermaine Dupri did the honors of making Aretha feel hipper to the hip-hop generation. Her closest critics cringed at the very thought of the pairing, but Dupri fairly transported her into a slick Atlanta bass workout that even allowed room for her to pay homage to a disco past she never had, thanks to the undercover sample of Change’s “The Glow of Love.”

“The House That Jack Built”
(1968, #7 pop)
Writer: Bobby Lance, Fran Robbins
Producer: Jerry Wexler
from the album Aretha’s Gold


“The House That Jack Built” was a funky little ditty that decorated the B-side of “I Say a Little Prayer,” and served as bonus filler on the Franklin’s first “greatest hits” compilation with Atlantic (Aretha’s Gold, 1969). Although small in stature, Lady Soul does the honors in bragging about a man who’s not coming back: “I got the house, I got the car/I got the rug and I got the rack/But I ain’t got Jack.” Franklin is surely the star of the show, but much credit also goes to the dazzling hard work laid down by the background vocals, as they play work overtime around Franklin’s verses.

“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves”
(1985, #18 pop)
Writer: Annie Lennox, Dave A. Stewart
Producer: Dave A. Stewart
from the album Be Yourself Tonight and Who’s Zoomin’ Who


With one of the greatest woman empowerment anthems already in her pantry of hits, Franklin was teamed up with Annie Lennox at the last minute for a modern follow-up after Tina Turner wasn’t available for the session. Fellow Eurythmic Dave Stewart produced the girl power workout, and even brought in some heavyweights (Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, popular session bassist Nathan East) to supply the song’s edginess. But this was a sure knockout for Lennox and Franklin, as they culled out one of the funkiest feminist anthems to shock the Eighties since Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” The opening line (“There was a time when we used to say that behind every great man there had to be a great woman/But these times are changing…”) seemed like the perfect reply to James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s World.”

“Get It Right”
(1983, #61 pop)
Producer: Luther Vandross
Writer: Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller
from the album Get It Right 


With the leftovers of “Jump to It,” producer Luther Vandross designed something extra funky for a follow-up. It features another dazzling showcase of Nat Adderley, Jr.’s piano echoes, sexy sing-a-longs (“ya’ make me scream/ya’ make me shout/tossin’, turnin’ inside and out”) and a slick assertion of Rick James punk-funk. Vandross would revive the song with a slower remake later in his career, especially after learning just how very little fanfare Aretha received for her original. Sadly on Luther’s part, Aretha’s version reigned as the superior version.

“Who’s Zoomin’ Who”
(1985, #7 pop)
Writer: Preston Glass, Narada Michael Walden, Aretha Franklin
Producer: Narada Michael Walden
from the album Who’s Zoomin’ Who


Narada Michael Walden had just constructed some sweetheart pop for Clive Davis’ darling Whitney Houston’s debut album. Because of the aroma of success that emitted from those sessions, Walden was quickly commissioned to produce Aretha’s fifth album for Arista. The title track of that album borrows a phrase that Franklin echoed during light conversations around the studio. Walden overheard it and thought it would be a great idea for a record. Because of that, she earned a co-writing credit. Inside the grooves, Franklin sounds forever young, camouflaged by hip synthpop flares and Walden’s crafty ‘80’s magic – the stuff that can be heard on his other hit singles for Whitney Houston and Jermaine Stewart.

“Runnin’ Out of Fools”
(1964, #57 pop)
Writer: Kay Rogers, Richard Ahlert
Producer: Clyde Otis
from the album Runnin’ Out of Fools


Before Aretha became Lady Soul with Atlantic, her candle was glowing over at Columbia. Normally dressed up on vocal jazz and show tune standards, Franklin was posed to be the new Ella. On this original track, teased with ragtime-tinged piano and sultry backing vocals, Franklin’s vocals goes from playful to electrifying in seconds. Shooting to number 57 pop in 1964, the song ended up being an early gem in Franklin’s career. And it may have been all the bait Ahmet Erugten needed to bring her into his soul hole at Atlantic.

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About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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