I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You was one of four—count ‘em, 1-2-3-4—albums released under Aretha Franklin’s name during 1967. Four albums for two different labels. And that’s the key point of Lady Soul’s ’67 story.
Aretha released her first long player, Songs of Faith, way back in 1956 when she was an innocent fourteen year old. Five years later she was signed to Columbia and albums followed. Aretha with the Ray Bryant Trio came out in 1961 and was followed by no less than seven albums before, fed up with what could only be described as modest success, she left Columbia for Atlantic. A change may be as good as a holiday, but this shift was better than a trip to the stars.
The singer who released one of the defining records of the year, the decade and indeed of R&B was no clueless new chum, but a seasoned veteran of the US recording industry with all its biases, power structures and prejudices.
In early 1967 Ms Franklin and her Manager/husband (or should that be Husband/manager?) went to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record her first Atlantic album at Fame Studio. But after a stunning beginning where the title track was laid down in around two hours, things were went downhill. The substantial session crew was not the interracial one label boss Jerry Wexler had requested. Alcohol and underlying tensions resulted in an unhappily premature end to the date.
Back in New York with selected members of the Muscle Shoals lot in tow, the Atlantic studio the session proceeded quite unusually. The singer played the piano parts herself, not common at the time, with the arrangements based around this voice-piano core. If you are reminded of Ray Charles, that is indeed apt.
The first song, the timeless and still exciting “Respect” opens the record with a clarion call of power and intent. One can only wonder what Otis Redding, who penned the tune, made of Aretha’s strident, stirring version. Full-hearted and huge-voiced, Aretha made the song her own. It is impossible to imagine any other singer ever wresting this song from the queen of soul.
But there is much more to I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You. “Drown In My Own Tears” pulls you into a swaying lament that almost swoons with heart-broken beauty. Then there’s the title track, which is simply sublime: yearning, pleading, wearing a big heart prominently on a tear-stained sleeve. You’ll have noticed that the word ‘heart’ has appeared with each of these opening songs, and that is no accident. If the secret to soul singer success is authenticity, then Aretha wrote the book with this record.
When you add in a cheeky, sexy “Dr Feelgood (Love is a serious business)” a powerfully plaintive “Do Right Woman — Do Right Man” and the heartfelt (that word again), highly charged closer “A Change is Gonna Come” you have an album showing no sign of diminished potency with the passing of a mere half-century.
I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You was released by Atlantic in March ’67. Columbia, not in the least bit opportunistic or exploitative, attempted to hitch a ride on the hem of its gown by releasing not one, but two further Aretha albums. Needless to say, they didn’t do much at all. But Franklin’s follow-up album for her new label sure did.
A tour and a broken elbow later, Aretha Arrives came out in August 1967 and repeated the achievement of its label predecessor by reaching #1 on the R&B chart. It did not rise quite so high on the pop chart, making it to #5 (compared to I Never Loved A Man’s #2), but it was nevertheless an amazing achievement and rocketed Aretha Franklin into the soul/R&B stratosphere.
Critics were more, er, critical than the record buying public. A number thought the some of the material below par and some of the arrangements less than optimal. But no-one doubted the spirit of the singer nor the majesty of her delivery, even if many of the tracks could be described as strong rather than riveting. Though in placing it at the top of a list of ’20 Forgettable Follow-ups to Big Albums’, Q Magazine (2004) was being particularly mean-spirited.
It is worth noting that while there were four Franklin compositions or co-writes on I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You, plus two Sam Cooke songs and an Otis Redding number, the follow-up album had none of the above.
Nevertheless, there are highlights. One is the sultry strut of single “Baby, I Love You”, another the quirky bounce of “96 Tears”. I am not a fan of the saccharine standard “You Are My Sunshine” but Aretha pumps it up so much it is almost unrecognisable… and all the better for it. The slow blues “Night Life” has great playing and a terrific vocal and is this listener’s other fave.
So all in all, far from a disaster. Really, the worst you could say is that Aretha Arrives is a bit thin compared with the depth and passion of I Never Loved A Man. But the title was absolutely spot on: it was 1967 and Aretha Franklin had, indeed, arrived. Within a year she was on the cover of Time magazine.
Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You Label: Atlantic Released: March 10th, 1967 Duration: 41:19
Aretha Franklin - Aretha Arrives Label: Atlantic Released: August 4th, 1967 Duration: 36:30