Aretha Franklin is the undisputed Queen of Soul.
When she arrived on the scene in 1956, no one at the time believed that the young Franklin, who got her training singing in the gospel choir at New Bethel Baptist Church in her native Detroit, Michigan, would have the stature that she commands today. After all, her debut album, Songs of Faith, didn’t even chart; and her next two albums got the cold shoulder from Billboard as well.
She would finally break through on the pop side of the charts with 1967’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” which went to no. 9 on the pop charts and went Gold, and from there, the Queen of Soul was born.
From there, the Queen was unstoppable, and along the way, she paved the way for female artists of all colors to make their harmonies known to the rest of the music world. So, to honor the legend that is the Queen of Soul, let’s countdown the top 10 songs that have stood the test of time within Aretha Franklin’s vast and influential catalog.
Franklin got her start singing in the church, and her first album was filled with good old-fashioned church hymns. Though Songs of Faith is a lost relic among many of Franklin’s best albums, it should be unearthed just to hear just how raw and talented Franklin was in her youth. The defining song on this album was “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” which finds Franklin summoning her powerful vocals to sing the high praises of the Lord.
Franklin’s albums and singles are legendary, but she did have some LPs that failed to generate much chart action. 1991’s What You See Is What You Sweat is one of them, as Billboard didn’t really buy Franklin’s updated sound. The LP, though, is a lost diamond, and one track that really stands out is the title track. Here, Franklin really went for capturing the new jack swing movement, and the end result is a track that is funky and still remarkably fresh today.
Originally created for Otis Redding, songwriter Don Covay instead gave “Chain of Fools to Aretha Franklin, and the rest, as they say, is history. The short, but powerful “Chain of Fools” became Franklin’s fourth chart-topper on the R&B side, and just missed out on that feat on the pop side. One can listen to “Chain of Fools” over-and-over and never get tired of hearing Franklin’s heavenly vocals belt out such a tough tune.
By 1967, Aretha has surely arrived, which, ironically, was the title of her 12th album. Though the LP did contain the splendid “Baby I Love You,” the song that really stands out from Aretha Arrives was the ballad “Night Life.” Whenever Franklin got the chance to put her voice on center stage, the moment was hers, and that is especially true for the powerful “Night Life.”
Thought the female R&B group EnVogue created a number one hit with the cover to “Something He Can Feel,” in some ways, that single can’t really match up to the original. Again, Franklin’s vocals are front-and-center here, and it’s a smoky ballad that will make for the perfect nightcap to a long day.
Between 1978 and 1981, Franklin was on, in her terms, a bit of a commercial slump. Though her singles charted, they were in the lower reaches. That doesn’t mean that she didn't make great music during this time period, in fact, some of her lesser-known gems can be found here. Case in point, 1981’s “Living In the Streets,” which found Franklin updating her sound for the ‘80s and sounding good doing it.
Only die-hard Franklin fans will tell you that 1983’s “Get It Right” is one of Franklin’s best up-tempo tunes. The fact that it wasn’t a big hit back then is puzzling, to say the least, as the song finds Franklin embracing the synths and dream beats that had firmly taken over R&B that year.
Aretha Franklin proved that one didn’t need to create a six-minute track to make a statement. She did this in over two minutes with “Save Me,” which is classic Franklin through and through. The guitar on this track really pushes the song to the outer limits, and it should be considered a gem among her catalog.
Aretha Franklin tapped into southern soul with this song. Franklin sounds electrifying on “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” with her voice beautifully meshing with the backing band. This is another unearthed gem that many should take the time to enjoy.
Even for people who haven’t heard of Aretha Franklin, when this song pops on, everyone gets up to boogie. Another track that was originally written and recorded by Otis Redding, Franklin's version has become a treasure in music, as it created the perfect song for female empowerment. No Aretha Franklin playlist should be without this song.