10 Essential Aretha Franklin Songs

Aretha Franklin Songs

Photo: penner [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

While popular culture has had its share of incredibly talented female vocalists, there has always been only one Queen of Soul. The musical career of Aretha Franklin set the bar so high, very few have ever come close to matching the singer’s brilliance. For years, Aretha Franklin’s musical performances and studio recordings have brought joy to millions of music fans around the world. One does not even have to be a music fan to be touched by her incredible musical spirit. Her passing was a great loss to us all.

Since her first single 1956 entitled “Never Grow Old,” until her passing in 2019, Aretha Franklin released thirty eight studio albums, forty five compilation albums, six live albums and a amazing one hundred and thirty one singles. Her first studio album was released in 1961 entitled Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo.  From that point on Aretha Franklin released albums on a very steady basis. Aretha Franklin released nine albums on Columbia Records from 1961 to 1967 including, Aretha: With The Ray Bryant Combo, The Electrifying Aretha Franklin, The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging Aretha Franklin, Laughing on the Outside, Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington, Runnin’ Out of Fools, Yeah!!!, Soul Sister and Take It Like You Give It.

In 1967, Aretha Franklin signed with Atlantic Records.Her signing with Atlantic resulted in her next five albums all hitting number one on the Billboard R&B music charts. Four out of the five also reached the Billboard top 100 Mainstream album music charts.These albums included, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, Aretha Arrives, Lady Soul, Aretha Now and Soul ’69.

In 1969, Columbia Records released the album Soft and Beautiful that she had recorded in 1964. However Aretha Franklin continued her stunning steady release of studio albums into the 1970s with Atlantic Records. Thos albums included, This Girl’s In Love With You and Spirit in the Dark in 1970, Young Gifted and Black in 1972, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky) in 1973, Let Me In Your Life and With Everything I Feel In Me in 1974, You in 1975, Sweet Passion in 1977, Almighty Fire in 1978 and La Diva in 1979. 

Aretha Franklin ended her recording career with Atlantic Records in 1979. Aretha Franklin was signed by Clive Davis’s label Arista Records. On Arista Records, Aretha Franklin would continue to have commercial success. Her debut on the new label was titled simply, Aretha. She continued to release albums into the 1980s including, Love Hurt All The Way in 1981, Jump To It in 1982, Get It Right in 1983, Who’s Zoomin’ Who? in 1985, Aretha in 1986, Through The Storm in 1989, What You See Is What You Sweat in 1991, A Rose Is Still A Rose in 1998 and So Damm Happy in 2003. 

Aretha Franklin’s last three albums were released on three different labels. This Christmas, Aretha was released io the DMI label in 2008, her independent release of A Woman Falling Out of Love in 2011  and her final album Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics released in 2014 on RCA Records. 

In 2017, Aretha Franklin passed away. In celebration of her life, we put together a list of 10 Aretha Franklin songs that we couldn’t live without. There are hundreds of brilliant studio recordings and live performances that we would love to include, but adding hundreds of videos on a web page makes for a web page that does not load. So we have picked 10 Aretha Franklin songs that we think defines the many essential sides of Aretha Franklin’s music.

# 10 – Freeway Of Love

We open our top 10 Aretha Franklin Songs list with a semi modern day Aretha Franklin song entitled “Freeway Of Love.” We call call it modern because it the only Aretha Franklin song to appear on this list that was not recorded in the 1960s or early 1970s. “Freeway of Love,” appeared on the album Who’s Zooming Who. The album was an incredible commercial success for Aretha Franklin. The record is Aretha Franklin’s second platinum selling full length album.

The song also featured Clarence Clemons on saxophone who was enjoying celebrity status due to his role in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. In 1985, Bruce Springsteen was incredibly popular on a worldwide basis. While the saxophone playing of Clarence Clemons brought a true spirited soulfulness to the songs, the keyboard oriented bass lines and slick production was a pure product of the 1980s musical technology boom. Nonetheless, Aretha Franklin’s towering soulful vocals and the composition of the song itself overcame the 1980’s overproduction issues. This is a unique one in her catalog and an essential part of her 1980s success.

# 9 – Baby I Love You

As a writer, one listen to this song and you just stand paralyzed. How does one write about a piece of music as magical as “Baby I Love You.” Utilizing words like groove or soul does not do it justice, The music here is beyond words or description. Aretha Franklin’s great song “Baby I Love You,” was released in 1967 on the Aretha Arrives album.

# 8 – Rock Steady

The great Aretha Franklin song “Rock Steady,” was released in 1971. The song was written by Aretha Franklin. “Rock Steady,” appeared on the album Young, Gifted and Black. It was Aretha Franklin’s eighteenth studio album. The song also featured an incredible cast of musicians including The Memphis Horns, Donny Hathaway on keyboards, Chuck Rainey on bass, Cornell Dupree on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums and Richard Tee on organ. The record was produced by Jerry Wexler with assistance by Tom Dowd who would later go on to be a outstanding rock producer who worked with bands like The Allman Brothers, Eric ClaptonLynyrd Skynyrd, and so many more

# 7 –“(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone”

Continuing with our 10 Essential Aretha Franklin songs list, we turn to a gorgeous classic song released in 1968. The Aretha Franklin Teddy White penned song “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone was released on her phenomenal Lady Soul album. The song hit number one on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues Singles chart in 1968. It reached the number five position on the Billboard Hot 100.

# 6 – I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)

We could not compose and essential Aretha Franklin songs list without including her first big hit entitled “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” The song was released in 1967. “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” was written by Ronnie Shannon.  The song was released on her debut Atlantic Records album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. 

# 5 – Chain Of Fools

While some of these Aretha Franklin songs may not be known to a mass cultural audience in 2019, there are some that are so ingrained in culture, there can be no denying their popularity. “Chain of Fools,” is one such song. The record was released in 1967 on the Lady Soul album. It is one of Aretha Franklin’s biggest his of her career. “Chain Of Fools,” hit number one of the Billboard R&B charts in 1967. The song hit number two on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Chain of Fools,” was not only a commercial success, the song won Aretha Franklin a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance

 # 4 – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman

It’s pretty tough to separate the next four Aretha Franklin songs on this list because they are all legendary pieces. Nonetheless, Aretha Franklin’s version of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” was one of her greatest studio vocal performances. The song was released on the 1967 Lady Soul album. It was a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

# 3 – Amazing Grace

“Amazing Grace,” is probably one of the most covered songs in popular music history. The song’s reach extends far beyond popular music. It is one of those songs that transcends all boundaries. It is one of the oldest songs that still resonates in modern times being a couple of thousand years old. The songs was originally written as a Christian hymn in the 1700s. Aretha Franklin recorded the song in 1972. The song was released on the album Amazing Grace.

# 2 – Think

Aretha Franklin’s soul drenched song “Think,” was released in 1968. The song was released as a single from the Aretha Franklin album entitled Aretha Now. The song was written by Aretha Franklin and her husband Teddy White. “Think,” reached the number one position on the Billboard Hot R&B singles charts.

# 1 – Respect

No doubt about which one we would pick in the number spot on our 10 Essential Aretha Franklin songs list. Aretha Franklin’s stunning version of “Respect,” made her a household name around the world in 1967. The song had originally been recorded by Otis Redding. Even Otis Redding admitted that once Aretha Franklin recorded the song, it was no longer his.

The song featured Cornell Dupree and Jimmy Johnson on guitars, Tommy Cogbill on bass, Spooner Oldham on organ and Roger Hawkins on drums. The song’s horn section consisted of King Curtis, Charles Chalmers, Willie Bridges and Melvin Lastie. Carolyn and Emma Franklin sang background vocals.

“Respect,” was written by Otis Redding in response to many of the civil rights issues of the 1960s. Aretha Franklin’s version of the song was dramatically different from the original Otis Redding version. Aretha’s cover of “Respect,” hit number one on the U.S. Billboard top 100 charts. “Respect,” also hit number one on the Billboard Hot R&B charts.

Updated Dec 9, 2020

Top 10 Aretha Franklin songs  article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2019

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