By Helena Uhl
After 10 mildly successful attempts, the 1967 album I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You) propelled Aretha Franklin’s career forward on to the timeless music charts. The incredible fire in the delivery and the social commentary makes this a must-listen for any woman, lover of soul or lover of music in general.
This month on the 50th anniversary of her record’s release it is important to remember Franklin’s role as an inspiration to female soul and R&B singers everywhere. In 2014, Franklin said she could “hear her influence” in the powerhouse voices of Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys. Keys, one of today’s most famous soul singers, said: “Ms. Aretha is one of my main go to’s for inspiration. Her piano playing, gospel, [and] soul style is something that you literally have to be DEAD not to feel.” Franklin’s influence in Beyonce’s music is also clear. ‘Queen B’ has not only become a leading figure in promoting feminism in popular culture but her voice mirrors Franklin’s gospel style.
Ms. Aretha is one of my main go to’s for inspiration. Her piano playing, gospel, [and] soul style is something that you literally have to be DEAD not to feel
I Never Loved a Man sold 500,000 copies in 1967 and reached number two in the charts. It’s the long term influence of the album, however, that puts it among the all-time greats. Before entering the studio in early 1967, Franklin was a relatively small time star known only within the gospel sector, but with the album’s release ‘the Queen of Soul’ was born. The album’s success was largely helped by its two famous singles, the pop single Respect and the ballad that gave the LP its name.
After Respect’s release on March 10, it immediately rose to the top position in the R&B Singles chart, the Billboard Hot 100 and the Australian Singles Chart. Twenty years later it was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame. It has also become her signature song. The collection as a whole was also incredibly successful ranking 83rd on Rolling Stone magazine’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Her debut work at Atlantic Records perfectly combined all the best elements of R&B and soul, allowing her to stay true to her own vibe. The 11 songs perfectly showcase her wide range of talents. Her gospel and soul inspired voice and strong personality created the two most famous songs on the album, while Dr. Feelgood, co-written by Ted White, exhibited her songwriting talents.
What is particularly gripping about these 11 songs is the commanding, real and passionate way they are performed. This makes the LP stand out among all her others. The passion that was ignited in the studio during the recording was hard to beat in future compilations. In I Never Loved a Man Franklin covers the songs of musical greats, such as Ray Charles, and manages to live up to them or even outdo them on some occasions. The art behind Franklin’s music is her ability to capture the emotional conflicts in her life in her music and this collection does it best.
Her all time classic Respect with its lyrics “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me, R-E-S-P-E-C-T take care, TCB” captured the world’s attention. The song encapsulates the uplifting and powerful spirit of the album, with lively horns and assertive main vocals. King Curtis’ saxophone solo completes the attributes that make the song a joyous dance number. Respect would become a feminist anthem and kickstart Franklin’s career. With this song, originally written and performed by Otis Redding, Franklin demanded that she, as a woman, be given respect and declared her financial and sexual independence.
Drown In My Own Tears gives us a glimmer into a sadder side of her life than most of her other songs. It will make you relive your last heartbreak rather than encourage you to go out and change the world. The heavy piano adds to the song’s intense mood and the lyrics bring it home: “Here without you, I get so lonely and I sure get blue, yes, I do. It seems to keep rainin’, rainin’, and raining more and more.”
Drown In My Own Tears gives us a glimmer into a sadder side of her life than most of her other songs. It will make you relive your last heartbreak rather than encourage you to go out and change the world
Finally, A Change Is Gonna Come is a deeply political and emotional outro. This song highlights why this album had such a strong political impact. The soul-stirring intensity of the song peaks in the first verse: “Just like the river I’ve been running ever since. He said it’s been a long time coming but I know my change is gonna come, oh yeah.” Sam Cooke wrote the song with the civil rights movement in mind, but Franklin’s delivery makes this song more personal, reflecting the emotions behind the movement but also women’s struggle for respect at this time.
The one criticism of this work is that at times its production is lacking. In some of the songs, Franklin’s smooth voice clashes with the instruments. This gives the audience the feeling that the instruments cannot live up to the range in her voice. One could also argue as a female singer she should not have covered only male artists.
On March 25th, Franklin celebrates her 75th birthday and has yet to retire. In April 2017, she will be at the Grand Rapids Devos Hall in Michigan. Given her fear of flying, it’s unlikely she’ll grace the UK with her presence anytime soon. Even if you’re not willing to travel Stateside to see her concert there’s no excuse not to pick up the album responsible for transforming her into a global source of feminist inspiration. I never Loved a Man is available to stream for free through Amazon music or available to buy as an MP3 for £8.99.