Thursday, April 25, 2013

Otis Redding/Aretha Franklin--Respect (1965/1967)

    Musical covers can be a bit of an art form in itself. Just because someone records a song for the first time doesn't make it the definitive version of that song, although because it's first, it often is recognized as such.  The following is a song where the original were amazing, but the cover far surpassed it. Many may not realize that Franklin's version of 'Respect' WAS the cover. It's reaching those heights had as much to do with time and place as it did singer.
      Otis Redding wrote the song for Speedo Sims and his group, the Singing Demons. At this point it was essentially a ballad, but as the group went into the Muscle Shoals studio, they had difficulty creating the vision that Redding had hoped, so he asked for permission from Sims to record the song himself, which Sims did. It was included on his 1965 album, "Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul" and the single went to #4 on the R&B charts, and #35 on the Hot 100.
     On hearing this version of the song, one hears a man who will give anything to his woman. Even if she is unfaithful, it will be fine as long as he gets his 'respect' when he gets home. Of course, 'respect' here is a euphemism, but you get the drift.....

     It was producer Jerry Wexler who brought the song to Aretha Franklin's attention. He thought that it would be a great showcase for her vocal talents. Franklin had just signed with Atlantic Records, and her association with Wexler had already netted the singer her first top 10 hit, "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)".  What happened with her recording of "Respect" however, is one of those wonderful musical stories that could never have been predicted.
     In Aretha's hands, the lyrics became a strident, declaration of liberation not only as a person of color, but more importantly (at least from a cultural standpoint) as a woman. She has everything that her man could ever want, so she wants 'respect" in the most real sense of the word. The woman's liberation movement was beginning to come out from the shadows, and the song summed up the feeling of many who felt their lives were being directed without permission by their men, and in this context, by society as a whole.  
     The song from a musical standpoint was a tour de force. Franklin sounded as liberated musically as the lyrics demanded she must be socially. What sealed the deal with the addition of a musical bridge provided by King Curtis' tenor sax. It became her first number one, and thrust her into the limelight once and for all, but more importantly the song became the social and cultural touchstone of that decade. For that alone, it deserves "respect" for one of the great songs of the modern musical era.


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