By Adam Blank:
There are artists and songs that you’ve heard so many times they are a part of you to the point you can’t describe life without them. Safe bet we all grew up hearing the same bands, courtesy of 60-something-year-old parents: the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan and the list grows in more or less the same direction. Then there’s the segment of soul; the R&B oldies, as you will. In my case, this is where my dad’s influence comes to play. I have cherished memories of riding around in his ’71 MGB listening to the oldies station. He knew every word, to every song, and we sang the shit out of ’em. Sometimes he’d share a story or memory. But I digress. Let’s talk about May’s album: Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.
Released in 1967, this is Ms. Franklin’s eleventh album release. When it was recorded, FAME studios was just developing its groove. Muscle Shoals, everybody. (disclaimer: this album was part produced at FAME part Atlantic’s studios in NYC). The arrangements are hard to dismiss as anything short of superstar. But the approach to producing was simple: Ms. Franklin sat at her piano, and rhythm patterns were built on this base, and the horns and vocals answers filled in later.
First thought that comes to mind after hearing the record in its entirety: immediately smitten. You know the place she’s going to take you before the onset. But you also know it’s going to exceed that exact expectation and so the excitement consummately transcends you into that special space. You’re in your chair before the first note.
A hit beyond explanation. And I really should save myself any embarrassment and out of respect, move along to the next track.
DROWN IN MY OWN TEARS
You sneak back to your amp, and turn the volume up, a bit more, and back to your chair with a certain degree of charisma and satisfaction rarely obtained in your living room while the family sleeps soundly. How can someone’s tears sound so beautiful? Again, I’m not special by any degree nor will I begin to ponder or declare the origin of Aretha’s soulful capabilities. But I sure as shit feel good listening to her belt her heart out.
I NEVER LOVED A MAN (THE WAY I LOVE YOU)
Self titled track. Organs. And Aretha. And then you get some horns. Your stereo is in perfect harmony. Oh snap, that guitar (Muscle Shoals doesn’t just have singers). I could hear this song on repeat, without dinner, for a week straight.
The soundstage on this track is off the charts. I dazingly (this has to be a real word?) stare at my needle. I watch the record groove. And before I know it we’re on the to the next track. And it’s time for another drink.
DON”T LET ME LOSE THIS DREAM
Not every track has to be perfect. I’m taking my time pouring that drink.
BABY, BABY, BABY
Classic sounding in every sense. You follow the words as your memory searches for the pictures. If you ever need a song to find the courage for an overdue apology, put this on.
If you can remember, you’re back at your amp, volume up. Drink in hand, patiently waiting to sing along.
I got up, moved around, and this is a good time to get a standup break. The song is awesome, the guitar is back, and I’m more or less floating in front of my speakers, enjoying that embodied richness.
DO RIGHT WOMAN-DO RIGHT MAN
You either have it or you don’t. If this song doesn’t make you float into 1960, into the body of one of Ms. Franklin’s backup singers, you don’t know. And I feel sorry for you. Maybe next life.
Rhythm guitars. And a steady drum. This is soulful rock ‘n roll. The riffs are simple, and Ms. Franklin isn’t toppling over anyone. The horns are balanced and fit perfect. It’s a short melody and easy to listen to. The horns and bass line will be mimicked for decades to come.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME
We’ve come to an end, and Ms. Franklin takes us to church. In her attempt to lift us emotionally, her producer puts the perfect touches, leaving a rich hum not so much in your face but into the depths of your soul. Perhaps this last track sums the record up perfectly: rejoice rejoice rejoice ya’ll Ms. Franklin just laid a perfect record.
So in conclusion: If you don’t own this album. It isn’t going anywhere, you don’t need to beat the crowd. But your home isn’t quite complete without it, so there’s that. Disclaimer:
I know who sent me this album. This is one of this person’s “essential albums.” And I’d trust him with my last dollar if he told me how to spend it.