When I was growing up, things were pretty chaotic at my house. So, much of the time I hid in my room reading books and listening to music. I was only 10-years-old when I found my first Aretha Franklin record in the garage. It was one of hundreds of dusty 45s that my dad had left behind after the divorce. I remember the first time I heard Aretha’s voice coming out of the speaker on that tiny pink record player. There was the drop of the needle, then the warm sound of needle on vinyl, the piano started in, sounding regal and reverent. Suddenly a voice blossomed like a flower in the dark room. It was so strong and beautiful The song was “Natural Woman”.
Aretha Franklin is probably my favorite singer of all time. Part of what makes her timeless is that her message is so personal. Every song she sang had a feeling of power. When I watched the film documentary about one of her producers “Tom Dowd and The Language of Music”, he stated that she chose songs from a powerful female perspective. I was a bit saddened to find that not all of her songs were like that, but it’s the truth.
No matter what she’s singing, Aretha Franklin’s not only technically gifted, but you can feel her presence in the delivery. The things she sings about are situations that anyone can relate to, no matter what age. The songs are still relevant. They’ve gotten airplay for decades for good reason.
There are singers,” said Ray Charles, “then there is Aretha. She towers above the rest. Others are good, but Aretha is great. She’s my only sure-enough sister.”
Of all of the hundreds of songs she’s done, I love “Think (About It)” best. It was the first song I remember seeing her perform- in the “Blues Brothers” movie. She was dressed like a fry cook but she sang like a queen!
Without Aretha I would probably never have become a singer, and maybe not even a radio DJ. Her records kept me going all of my life. There was always something regal and solid in her bearing that I had never seen before laying eyes on her. She wasn’t second to anyone else’s decisions. Over and over she showed me that women can be powerful and beautiful at the same time. That if they have nothing else but two feet they can walk right out of a bad situation.
Over the years my love for Aretha’s work extended into DJ remixes of her songs. The Daddy G remix of “Rock Steady” is the theme song for my weekly radio show because the vibe is cutting edge and current (the Daddy G influence) and organically rhythmic and soulful (Aretha’s contribution). To this day, her singles are some of the best music around.. My favorites are ”Think”, “Chain of Fools” and “Baby, I Love You” and those originals still sound great in a set next to newer acts like Spoon, LCD Soundsystem and Adele.
The brand new box set, Take a Look: Complete on Columbia, is just out. It has all seven of the full-length albums she put out on Columbia and a bonus disc of remixed singles and rarities.
DJ Michele Myers chooses the music and hosts Saturdays on KEXP from 3-6pm and every week brings you a Saturday Afternoon Artist feature with several songs in-a-row. She’s also the producer/creator of KEXP Documentaries.