On March 25th 1942 Barbara Franklin and the Reverend C.L Franklin welcomed into the world the future Queen of Soul, their daughter Aretha. There’s little else to be written of Miss Franklin’s incredible vocal talent, her ability to outshine nearly every other vocalist in the past fifty years, and her longevity in the business. For us at TFSR she is simply the greatest singer to have ever lived.
That’s not to say her career has been fully successful, but even on albums that have not sold well or that have been received poorly amongst the critics, Franklin’s voice has always been consistent. Whether you prefer her more ‘soulful’ recordings at Atlantic Records, or her more pop-orientated records on Arista Records, or even her more jazz-standards records on Columbia, most will agree that no one has done it better than the Queen.
Over the course of her career Franklin has had several duet partners, for instance, she sang with The Four Tops on her Jump To It album, she had a hit single with George Benson on ‘Love All The Hurt Away’, and who could forget the pop-smash with George Michael on ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’. For us however, it is the one that went un-released which is her best. In 2007 Atlantic Records finally released her duet with Ray Charles, the man who effectively pioneered rhythm and blues, on the album Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul. The album was put together by David Ritz (who has recently published a brilliant biography of the Queen) and Jerry Wexler, the man responsible for producing Franklin when she joined Atlantic from Columbia Records.
The duet on ‘Ain’t But The One‘ is simply incredible: Franklin and Charles are in both fine voice, but neither attempt to out sing the other, indeed these two powerful voices of soul mesh surprisingly well. Charles’ trademark growls are present, as are Franklin’s stunning high-notes. The song is drenched in gospel, from the lyrics to the organ, to the beautiful background vocal arrangement, to the call-and-response with the backing singers so prominent in Franklin’s Atlantic recordings. The guitar licks are sublime, giving the song a gritty soulful feel. Half way through the song the pair take it to the Church with the classic gospel call-and-response, the fast beat and that gospel tambourine. It gives space for each Franklin and Charles to show off, but in the end it is the Queen who out sings Charles. Even Ray Charles struggled to keep up with Aretha Franklin.
It’s shocking that this song never saw the light of day back in the sixties, but at least we have the recording released today. Had it been released back then could it have spurned further collaborations with Charles? Perhaps not, as Charles was getting ready to leave Atlantic and Franklin’s seventies output at Atlantic generally lagged. That said the two sang on record together again Franklin’s Live At Filmore West album, where, unbeknownst to Charles who was quietly sitting in the audience, Franklin had planned to get Charles on stage to sing on her ‘Spirit in the Dark’. Yet they would have no other records together sadly. But, we do have this one, and it stands to remind us that there is more to the Queen of Soul than simply ‘Respect’.
To celebrate Aretha Franklin’s birthday, we’ve created a Spotify playlist below with some of the Queen’s lesser known earlier works. Check it out below!