In this ‘Rare Cut’ feature Haff looks back at a previously unreleased gem from the Queen of Soul, a cover of the Sinatra standard ‘My Way’.
This past week once again the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin has proved that she reigns supreme, being granted an injunction over the Toronto International Film Festival airing footage from her shelved Amazing Grace documentary from the 1972. The film, originally directed by Sydney Pollack, had languished in the archives for decades: Pollack had failed to sync the audio with the video, and Franklin did not want such an unfinished product to be released. Although the current producers claim that Franklin does not own the recordings, a judge sided with Franklin who claimed that one “[j]ustice, respect and what is right prevailed and one’s right to own their own self-image.”
So that got us thinking about Franklin’s music. Then we re-discovered Atlantic Record’s 2007 compilation Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul. This compilation gives a rare insight to Franklin in her prime: her time singing standards at Columbia Records yield some brilliant if largely forgotten recordings, whilst her later years at Arista with Clive Davis brought her much commercial if little critical success. It was at Atlantic in the sixties that Aretha Franklin became the Queen of Soul, as this compilation demonstrates.
We’ve already covered one other recording from this album elsewhere, the epic duet between Franklin and Ray Charles on ‘Ain’t That Way’. Yet the release of the album also included a brilliant rendition from Franklin of the Frank Sinatra classic ‘My Way’. With the Ray Charles duet, it is amazing to think that this was only released in 2007, some four decades or so after it was recorded. Sinatra’s version is of course the definitive version, the whole arrangement being simply majestic. Where Sinatra sings his version in a pretty straightforward manner, Franklin does the opposite. Taken from her vocal peak around the time of the release of Spirit In The Dark, Franklin’s voice reaches the highs with perfect ease, featuring none of the raspy nature that she came to possess when she joined Arista. The arrangement is also a delight, mixing the Sinatra-esque strings with the gospel-Southern soul, complete with a Booker T-style organ solo.
But what is most impressive is Franklin’s voice. Indeed, if there is such a thing as vocal perfection, Franklin undoubtedly achieved it here. The only way this could get any better is if Sinatra were with Franklin in the studio singing with her. Now there’s a thought.