Artist: Aretha Franklin
Album: I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
Continuing with the theme of covers that improve upon the originals, I believe I have one that will even pass the test of purists: "Respect" by Aretha Franklin. Otis Redding's RnB classic was released in 1965, achieving top 40 status and helping to establish Stax Records as a real force in the world of black music. Franklin's version catapulted her to superstardom, earned her a Grammy, went to number 1 on the "white" music charts and became the soundtrack for the women's liberation movement in America.
Not unlike Frank Sinatra with "My Way" and Whitney Houston with "The Greatest Love of All," Aretha Franklin assumed ownership of "Respect" in a way few song interpreters are capable. Certainly, the arrangers did their part with smart horn writing, clever backing vocals and additional lyrics spelling it out for us both figuratively and literally. But it's the voice that cinches the "crime" that prompted Otis Redding to say "that little girl done stole (it) from me." The world had never heard anyone quite like Aretha Franklin and, although there have been many imitators in the ensuing decades, her rendition of "Respect" stands as a singular pop music achievement.