When Aretha first burst onto the world scene as a 25-year old in 1967 with her first hits on Atlantic Records she was already a veteran of many years of singing in church with her father C.L. and also a relatively unsuccessful six years with Columbia Records where she'd been given a variety of styles to try - including pop, jazz and blues. At Atlantic she hit the ground running with her first record and had an R&B no.1 and pop top ten hit with the wonderful "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)", which paired her peerless voice with the sound of southern soul - although after an initial foray south to record at Muscle Shoals she subsequently chose to record in the north.
This collection of 87 newly remastered tracks from Atlantic recorded between 1967 and 1976 but featuring mainly songs from the earlier years showcases all her hits and her versions of classic R&B songs like "Dark end of the street","People get ready" and "River's invitation", together with outtakes and live performances. She is also shown as a great interpreter of songs, with soulful workouts on Elton John's "Border song", the Band's "The weight" and even the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby". This isn't a complete collection of Aretha's time at Atlantic and I guess you could argue with the track selection or the duplication with previous collections BUT the sheer quality of her voice and her performances make giving these CDs anything less than five stars unthinkable.
Aretha was THE great black voice of her generation, and the last of a string of remarkable black women singers going from Bessie Smith, through Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald, the like of which we probably won't see again. It really makes me angry when some wannabe from the X-factor is compared to Aretha just because she is black - Aretha's voice and talent was truly exceptional, the result of her background, the times she lived through and lots of hard work and experience. Listening to this also makes me sad because Aretha's career seemed to fizzle out so early - for me her records on Arista were never as good as the Atlantic sides, although 1998's Lauren Hill-produced 'A rose is still a rose" showed that she could still successfully add that supreme voice to a modern R&B production.
This is a box of four discs of Aretha Franklin's recordings from 1967 to 1976 at a ludicrously low price. Not much else needs to be said, really. Aretha is one of the truly great singers of the last half-century and this music is just brilliant – but then you already knew that.
It is worth saying that the sound seems very good. It claims to be "remastered" but, bearing in mind that I'm not an audiophile and I don't have the originals to compare it to, it sounds to me pretty much as it did when I first heard it – bright, punchy and just right for the music. No-one has done anything silly like trying to put the mono recordings into artificial stereo and although my love of the music may make me a little less than objective, I suppose, this sounds just perfect to me.
There's not much point in banging on about classics like these. Put simply, they don't come any better than Aretha Franklin and if you want a lot of her great recordings at a super-bargain price then buy this. It's an absolute treat.
on 4 February 2014
The 4-disc/87-track box set "The Queen Of Soul" covers Aretha Franklin's tenure at Atlantic Records, from 1967's "I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You" to 1976's "Sparkle", and contains various hit singles, album tracks, non-LP sides, outtakes, rarities, and live performances. This attractively packaged anthology features all of sixteen Soul/R&B No. 1 hits, eleven of which also reached the Top Ten on the Pop Chart. Released by Rhino Records, a label which specializes in archival reissues, "The Queen Of Soul" is a testament to Aretha Franklin's supreme interpretive skills as a singer, as well as a tribute to her iconic status and her place in Soul music history. Released by Rhino Records, a label which specializes in archival reissues. [Also see Rhino Records' 4-disc box set "The King Of Soul" by Otis Redding.]