May 26, 1967– Respect Goes To Number One On The Pop And R&B Charts
In the mid-1960s, a not-quite-so-famous gospel singer, Aretha Franklin from Detroit, had a career that was just starting to take off. She had two R&B singles that cracked the Top 100 in 1965 and 1966 with the songs One Step Ahead and Cry Like A Baby, and she was also reaching the Easy Listening charts with the ballads You Made Me Love You and (No, No) I’m Losing You. Franklin had even booked appearances appeared on Rock N’ Roll television shows like Hollywood A Go-Go and my favorite, Shindig!. But, the execs at Franklin’s record label, Columbia, didn’t really see her potential, and did not understand how to use Franklin’s early gospel background to grab an audience. Columbia’s biggest acts at the time were Simon & Garfunkel, Barbra Streisand and Bob Dylan.
In January 1967, Franklin chose not to renew her contract with Columbia after six years with the company, and she moved over to Atlantic Records. As soon as she signed with Atlantic, she traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record at the famed FAME Studios to record a song that she had personally chosen, I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You), live, with the musicians of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. The song was released in February and reached Number Nine on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Franklin her first Top Ten Pop single. The song’s b-side, Do Right Woman, Do Right Man, missed the Pop charts, but reached the R&B Top 40, peaking at Number 37.
Franklin went to a NYC to try to jump-start her career. No one could have known at the time, but the next song that Franklin recorded would go on to become one of the greatest recordings of all time.
It was produced by Jerry Wexler, the visionary record executive behind the careers of Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, and Dusty Springfield. He chose it to open the album , I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You), with Respect.
In the liner notes he writes:
“Aretha Franklin has the qualities of the superstar. When we recorded this album, there was one unvarying reaction: Every time Aretha began a song, the musicians would shake their heads in wonder. After each take was completed, they would rush from the studio into the control room to hear the playback. Producers, engineers and musicians alike were entranced by Aretha’s purity of tone, her tremendous feeling for inspired variation and her unparalleled dynamics.”
If Franklin’s force-of-nature vocals on Respect aren’t impressive enough, she also simultaneously accompanies herself on piano.
Respect hit the top of the charts in May 1967 and turned Franklin into a Soul Queen and a Feminist Icon. The track was a clever gender-bending version of a song by Otis Redding, whose original had reinforced the traditional family structure of the time: The man works all day, brings money home to wife and demands her respect in return.
Franklin’s version blew that structure apart. A huge difference was that in Redding’s version, he doesn’t spell out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” like Franklin does. It also doesn’t have the backup singers and their cool “sock-it-to-me” answer to Franklin’s lead. So much of what made Respect a giant hit, and an empowerment anthem, came from Franklin’s own arrangement of the tune.
“My sister Carolyn and I got together. I was living in a small apartment on the west side of Detroit, piano by the window, watching the cars go by, and we came up with that infamous line, the ‘sock it to me’ line, and some of the girls were saying that to the fellas, like ‘sock it to me’ in this way or ‘sock it to me’ in that way. It’s not sexual. It was nonsexual, just a cliché line.”
On a wave of luscious horns and funky electric guitar and those cool back-up vocals, Respect became Franklin’s first Number One Hit.
Franklin’s version of Respect was a transformative moment in cultural history, for the Women’s Rights Movement and the Civil Rights Movement. And, it made Franklin a star.
Despite those royalties, Redding wasn’t all that happy about Franklin’s take on his song. But, he came to accept that Respect no longer belonged to him, and he changed the way her performed it when he did it at the Monterey Pop Festival a few weeks later in June 1967. He went onstage and announced:
“This next song is a song that a girl took away from me…”
But, he used her arrangement.
Just two days before Franklin had recorded the song, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on the 158th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. He called for an end to racism, which he condemned as:
“Man’s ancient curse and man’s present shame.”
Right after the record’s release, LBJ signed an executive order that expanded affirmative-action legislation to cover sexual discrimination.
In Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs, they name Respect one of the Top Five Greatest Songs Of All Time, saying:
“Franklin wasn’t asking for anything. She sang from higher ground: a woman calling an end to the exhaustion and sacrifice of a raw deal with scorching sexual authority. In short, if you want some, you will earn it.”
Two decades later, Franklin went on to become the first woman inducted into the Rock N’ Roll Hall. So far, she has sold more than 80 million records, won 18 Grammy Awards and scored more than 44 Top 40 singles.