I Never Loved a Man the Way That I Loved You

“No one sings like you anymore”C. Cornell

The major turning point in the 2006 movie Dreamgirls is when Curtis (Jamie Foxx), acting as producer and manager, removes Effie (Jennifer Hudson) from lead vocals and replaces her with Deena (Beyonce Knowles).  The reason he gives is that the big soul sound is on its way out in favor of a silky smooth pop sound.  Now the movie is of course fiction, but when I look at the development of the soul/R&B/pop style over the years, it certainly seems to parallel reality.  Actually, its a timeless arguement…back in the classical days the merits of the big, bold soprano voice were always contrasted with the lighter, lyric soprano sound, with the latter typically being relegated to chamber music and art song while the former got to sing arias on stage with a full orchestra.  But in this modern era of radio-friendly unit-shifters, the trend seems to have reversed and the lighter, smoother voice seems to win out over the bigger, soulful voice…even when the pop star in question can’t really sing at all.

So that brings me to Aretha.  Widely regarded as the greatest female singer of the modern era, her reputation is well deserved.  She has a big, powerful voice, but she also has moments that are extremely delicate and soft.  Her phrasing is flawless, and she feels that artistic moment of when to push her voice to the breaking point.  Like any talented gospel/soul/R&B singer, she embellishes the vocal lines, but she never goes over the top on crazy melismatic runs.  Basically, she combines talent, technique, and artistry into a nearly perfect package…and sadly, instead of inspiring a generation of amazing singers, the record industry has gone in completely the other direction, parading breathy, out-of-tune voices in music video after music video and making millions from it.  I’m probably being hash, but the current state of R&B/pop music is pretty dismal (as is the current state of mainstream rock and roll).  Sure, there have been a few decent female singers over the years (Whitney Houston and Christina Aguilera come to mind), but for every one of those there seem to be ten one-named Madonna/Brandy/Brittney/Ashanti/Gaga clones who rely on auto-tuners and slick producers.  And even the ones who really can sing, Mariah Carey for instance, bury their vocal melodies with insane melismas.  Tonight is the Super Bowl, and someone will probably butcher “The Star-Spangled Banner” with melismas…(actually, I just looked it up and it’s Idina Menzel singing it tonight…she’ll probably be decent…I met her once in New York, got a picture with her, she’s cool).

So back to Aretha.  This is the first of two consecutive Aretha Franklin albums.  I was tempted to write about them together, but I want this blog to have 500 entries when I’m done, so I’ll tackle them one at a time.  In addition to her singing talent, she plays piano on most of the songs on this album too.  And while she didn’t actually write most of the songs on this record, she did contribute to most of the arrangements.  And even though there are a lot of covers, she makes them her own.  Take “Respect” for instance…probably her most famous song, but it was written by Otis Redding.  But even though Otis was pretty famous in his own right, I guarantee most people associate “Respect” with Aretha because her’s is the definitive version.  She almost accomplishes the same feat with “A Change Is Gonna Come”, Sam Cooke’s most famous song.  I picked this up brand new for the bargain basement price of $2.40 (plus shipping and handling) along with Lady Soul (soon to be entry #85) on Amazon.  It’s a Rhino reissue, but the remastered sound is still pretty good.

Other lists: “Respect” is #5, “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)” is #189, and “Do Right Woman – Do Right Man” is #476 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.  Aretha is ranked #1 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #9 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its original position of #83.  This was due to the addition of CCR’s Chronicle and the rise of Radiohead’s Kid A combined with the drop of the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle.

My favorite track: “A Change is Gonna Come”

Honorable mention: “Respect”

Quote: “It’s been too hard livin’, but I’m afraid to die; I might not be if I knew what was up there beyond the sky…”