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Aretha Franklin and Her Best Songs Through the Years

Updated on May 9, 2020
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I am no musician, but I know what I like, and the music I review will be songs that deserve to be played forever.

Aretha Franklin died August 16, 2018, and even though she had been in bad health for a few years it was quite a blow to hear of her passing. Aretha’s songs have been giving the listener joy since joining Atlantic records in 1966. What a ride she had. There are so many songs she recorded throughout her career.

Here are some of the best songs she recorded in each decade.

The 1960’s

“I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You”

This is when Aretha really got on the road to success. The first song during this period that brought her to the top of the charts is “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.” It was released in 1967 and it reached Number 1 on the Soul Charts and Number 9 on Billboard. Aretha didn’t write the song, but she brought it in. They told her to sit down at the piano and sing. When she did everyone in the studio knew the song and the singer were magic.

You can still hear the magic today. Aretha makes you believe every word. Even though he is a liar and a cheat she still can’t help but love her man. The piano is up front with Aretha giving the song a bluesy sound. The guitar, horns and drums come in loud at the end to reach Aretha’s intensity. It is magic indeed.

This was Aretha’s eleventh album, but the first album she made with Atlantic Records. The album is entitled I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.

“Respect”

The song “Respect” also came from the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.” This became Aretha’s signature song. She knew she would be in trouble with her audience if she didn’t sing this song at her concerts. This song was written by Otis Reding and he released the song first. In his song he just wants his woman to respect all he does for her and she can do him wrong if she does respect him.

Aretha’s version became a song of female empowerment. Aretha is demanding the respect of her man. The background girl singers, the bass, the guitar, and most of all Aretha making the song all her own. You would have thought she wrote the song herself. This song earned her two Grammys in 1968.

According to Songfacts.com it was Aretha’s idea to do the song. She created the arrangements, she came up with the Sock It to Me line. Aretha also played the piano. Her sister Carolyn also helped to rework the song. Hats off to you ladies you did a fine job.

“Baby, I Love You”

“Baby I Love You” came from the album Aretha Arrives which was released in 1967. This song is the best song to come from the album though, of course, the other songs are gems too. When it was released it made it to number 4 on the Billboard Singles. On the Rhythm and Blues charts it spent two weeks at number 1. This song is hot.

Aretha and the band are performing head to head on this song. The backup singers chime in with Aretha then the band jumps in. The horns, and the drumming are stirring up the mix. Aretha takes control as usual and steers this song into the top spot on the charts. According to Songfacts.com Aretha said recording sessions during this album were fun. She said there was plenty of food coming in. Hamburgers, French fries, and milkshakes. She said the producers looked like they were enjoying it so much she couldn’t wait till she could eat too.

“You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman”

This song came from the album Aretha: Lady Soul released in 1968. The song went to number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song starts out with a church sound feel to it. It is a song of love Aretha singing it with such conviction that this person helped her to find herself and make her surer of herself. It is a beautiful song written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. Aretha makes the song her own.

The 1970's

“Don’t Play That Song”

This song came from the album Spirit in The Dark released in 1970 it was her 19th album. Ben E. King released the song in 1962 and had success with it. Aretha recorded it and found success as well. She was number 1 on the R&B singles chart for five weeks. She hit number 11 on the pop charts. If you love piano played with a boogie woogie and soul sound you will love this song. Aretha plays the piano skillfully in this song. This is a song of young love gone wrong with Aretha being lied to by her boyfriend, and no longer wanting to hear their song again. What a great song. It is easy to see why the song stayed on the top of the charts soul, rhythm and blues all combined for a classic sound.

“Day Dreaming”

The song came from the album Young Black and Gifted and was released in 1972. Aretha struck gold again with this song it spent two weeks at number 1 on the Hot Soul Charts, and it made it to number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

According to Songfacts.com this song, like Carly Simon’s song “You’re So Vain” was inspired by a famous person. It was Dennis Edwards from The Temptations. He wasn’t ready to commit, and when he finally decided he would Aretha wasn’t interested anymore.

Donny Hathaway plays the electric piano, and the song has a dreamy sound to it. You feel the love Aretha had for her man. She only wants to be with him and do whatever he wants to do. The song has a soul and jazzy sound to it. It is a beautiful song about a woman in love, and Aretha captured her emotions perfectly in this song.

“Rocksteady”

Young Black and Gifted produced this funky song too. This song grooves and it the lyrics are simply about grooving to the music. Aretha and band rock steady throughout this tune wow. She had some great musicians helping her out. Donny Hathaway played the organ, and Dr. John added percussion. Aretha made it to number 9 on the Billboard Top 100.

“Until You Come Back to Me {That’s What I’m Gonna Do)

This beautiful song came from Aretha’s album Let Me into Your Life released in 1974. Stevie Wonder co wrote the song. He recorded it but never released it as a single. Aretha did, and it reached number 1 on the R&B chart and number 3 on the Top 100 chart. It is easy to see why. It is a song about a love that has ended, but not for Aretha. She is going to rap on his door and tap on his window pane till he goes back to her. The song is smooth with a steady light drum beat, flutes, back up singers, and Aretha vowing to never give up. The song is beautifully done.

The 1980’s

“Jump to It”

This song came from the album Jump to It the album was released in 1982 and it was Aretha’s 31st album. It was number one on the Hot Soul Singles Chart for four weeks. The song was co written by Luther Vandross and Marcus Miller. Luther produced the album and sang back up on it along with Cissy Houston. The song is funky and has pop too. This song has a groove and is a great song to dance to. In the song Aretha wants to get her friend off the telephone line because her man is about to call her. Love aces out friendship in this song.

“Freeway of Love”

The album Who’s Zoomin’ Who The album was the 33rd for Aretha and she went Platinum with it. “Freeway of Love” It was released in 1985. It is a song about just traveling down the road and you can see the visuals of the pink Cadillac just cruising. Aretha got Clarence Clemmons to play saxophone on the song. He also appears on the video with her.

Aretha didn’t drive a car, so she is the passenger enjoying the ride. The song was released during the summer and was all over the airwaves as people cruised around enjoying themselves.

“Who’s Zoomin Who”

This is another hit for Aretha. It got to number 7 on the Billboard Top 100. What a great follow up to “Freeway of Love”. The song has that 80’s sound with the drum machine. Aretha sings it with sass and with power grooving the song all the way. She wanted to find a youthful sound and with the album and the songs she accomplished her goal.

“I Knew You Were Waiting for Me”

This song came from the album Aretha released in 1986. George Michael sang the duet with Aretha and this song was a great hit for them both. The song was written to be a single, but the producer Clive Davis requested that Aretha and George do the song as a duet. George knew that he could not compete with the Queen, so he held back and let her do her thing. Together they created a beautiful song.

Aretha created so many great songs throughout her long career. In each decade she found a way to keep reaching her audience and growing it as well. Her voice, her stature, her music does indeed make her the Queen of Soul. Rest in peace Aretha and thank you for your music.

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