Saturday, June 13, 2020

Can We Agree that Rock Steady is Aretha's Best Song?

The original cover of the album Young, Gifted and Black, by Aretha Franklin.
By early 1971, the 29-year-old Aretha Franklin was already the undisputed Queen of Soul.  

She had already released Respect, Chain of Fools, (You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman), and Think, all monster hits.  She was pop music royalty. 

In fact, she had arguably stepped into a role she had been born for.  Her father, the Baptist pastor CL Franklin, was a celebrity preacher known as "The Man with the Million Dollar Voice."

CL counted Dr. Martin Luther King, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke as friends.  CL was also a gospel music recording artist, and as a child young Aretha began to perform with him, singing and playing piano.

Aretha signed her first record deal at the age of 14, with the small gospel label JVB Records.  Music producer Quincy Jones has said that when Aretha was still a child, popular 1950s recording star Dinah Washington told him that "Aretha is the next one.

Which is to say what?  Basically, sometimes all the stars are aligned.  Certain people don't need to be discovered.

In February of 1971, Aretha released the single Rock Steady on Atlantic Records.  It is my personal favorite Aretha Franklin song.  

Give it a listen, if you haven't already.



Not Forgotten

It is not remotely fair to say this song has been forgotten.  It hasn't.  It was a hit song, and reached #9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Later musicians know it well.  It's been sampled or covered at least 120 times, including by Prince, Public Enemy, Dr. Dre, Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, and Kid Rock.

The album it appeared on, 1972's Young, Gifted and Black (a great album, which oddly enough, was mostly made up of cover songs) won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.

The song has been a bit overshadowed, however, by Aretha's more well-known and popular hits.  

To everyone's detriment.

And just by the way, the back up singers on this song?  There are five of them.  Two of them are Erma Franklin (Aretha's older sister), and Carolyn Franklin (Aretha's younger sister).