I created this image last year to pay homage to the 50th anniversary of the recording of the song, Respect, by Aretha Franklin on Valentines Day.
Otis Redding wrote the song, but Respect as Aretha interpreted it, became an anthem for women and the downtrodden. Was it the song or the woman, or both that made this song version so iconic?
To this day Aretha is amazing! Jerry Wexler produced the album. This was her first recording with Atlantic her a great deal of artistic freedom. When she played the piano accompaniment for her own vocals, it was apparently magic that inspired all the musicians working with her. Family members can sometimes do things together vocally that only people with similar “pipes” can. Aretha’s sisters, Carolyn and Erma, provided backing vocals, and inserted their own touches such as repetitions of Aretha’s nickname, “Re, Re, Re, Re” and the “sock it to me” the performed lyrics. It was a perfect alignment of everything.
I grew up sleeping with a transistor radio under my pillow. At night I could get WLS and listen to music of the day that became the iconic songs for my generation of girls soon to be women. Most songs played on the air were rather piggish overtly or subliminally, it was the era of Mad Men after all. But when we heard a woman singing with the emotion and depth of Aretha, we listened, we imprinted. We emulated the ethos of the song that captured the essence of the civil rights movement and what women wanted and were beginning to demand interpersonally. It was what men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities wanted and needed. Just a lil’ bit.
The arrangement nailed it. Aretha’s powerful, soulful, voice and inspired piano playing, along with her sister’s embellishments to the lyrics made the song hers. R and B? Pop? Gospel? It is all there. Otis Redding wrote the song originally, but it became hers. It was anthem, drawing together, and inspiration, drawing in.
The song topped the charts during 1967’s Summer of Love, but it had a timeless quality beyond much of the music of the day that simply reflected change and novelty rather than universal human desire that was at the core of Respect.
This was a moment of change, but it was also an embodiment of all the change that had happened up to that point. Music recognized, amplified, codified and distributed social change. Music is a powerful cultural communication tool. When the time is right, a single person’s message can travel around the world.