My Pop Life #225 : I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You) – Aretha Franklin


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I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You) – Aretha Franklin

You’re a no good heart breaker
You’re a liar and you’re a cheat
And I don’t know why
I let you do these things to me
My friends keep telling me
That you ain’t no good
But oh, they don’t know
That I’d leave you if I could
I guess I’m uptight
And I’m stuck like glue
Cause I ain’t never
I ain’t never, I ain’t never, no, no loved a man
The way that I, I love you

*

We’d been living in New York just over a year when we hit the musical jackpot and scored two tickets to see Aretha Franklin live. She was to perform at NJPAC,  a splendid concert hall in Newark just over the Hudson River in New Jersey.  Her status as Queen of Soul was unchallenged over the course of my lifetime but she had a reputation for being a little unpredictable in a live arena.  Which Aretha would we get on this blustery March evening, joining the hordes of well-dressed African-Americans here to pay tribute to a legend.  Famously Aretha didn’t like to fly, the reason why we’d never seen her in the UK, so she’d travelled here by car from her native Detroit.  I think we’d relaxed our expectations, not seeking the Goddess of Song but simply wanting to be in the same room as a legend who had sung some of the greatest records ever made.

*

What are the greatest soul records ever made ?   I digress.  I have to.  Personal taste you understand.  A list which changes every day but grows over the decades, these represent the cream of the world of soul music, from the 50s – 80s anyway.  Let’s go –

Ray Charles   ‘Drown In My Own Tears

Sam Cooke   ‘You Send Me’

Lorraine Ellison   ‘Stay With Me Baby

The Stylistics   ‘People Make The World Go Round’

Bobby Bland  ‘Too Far Gone’

Michael Jackson   ‘Off The Wall’

Otis Redding   ‘Try A Little Tenderness’

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes   ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Roberta Flack   ‘Where Is The Love?

Stevie Wonder   ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’  etc

Earth Wind & Fire   ‘That’s The Way Of The World’

The Four Tops   ‘Bernadette’

Isaac Hayes  ‘Theme From Shaft’

Anita Baker   ‘No One In The World’

James Brown   ‘I’ll Go Crazy’

Al Green   ‘Belle’

The Temptations   ‘Just My Imagination’

The Isley Brothers   ‘Harvest For The World’

Smokey Robinson   ‘The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage’

The Chi-Lites   ‘Have You Seen Her?’

Bill Withers   ‘Just The Two Of Us’

The Staple Singers   ‘I’ll Take You There’

Luther Vandross   ‘There’s Nothing Better Than Love’

Jackie Wilson   ‘Sweetest Feeling’

Diana Ross   ‘Remember Me’

Ray Charles   ‘What Kind Of Man Are You?’

Sam & Dave   ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell   ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’

What do all these songs have in common?  Well, I’d say it was an ability on the part of the singer to testify to their own feelings in song and thus to reach the listener, deep down inside.  I am touched by these songs, I feel feelings.  Pride, joy, pity, sorrow, sacrifice, surrender, love – the whole gamut of feeling is in there.  And then of course – there’s this…

Aretha Franklin   ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You)

Every single song that Aretha sings has this bond, from her heart to yours, via that instrument of connection, her voice.  Instinctive, tutored in gospel, able to sing anything.  Which she did.

*

The Queen of Soul.  When I repacked my CDs into boxes then into a storage container in England last month I had a thick brick wedge of Aretha Franklin, from the tin pan alley songs and musical numbers of the early 60s, through the classic Atlantic Records era which starts with this song through to the mid seventies, up to the disco hits on Arista and duets with George Michael – a body of work with astonishing singing, total command of the material, the effortless soaring which her voice achieves time & time again, translating the gospel experience into secular song, singing the blues, jazz, pop, soul music, an outstanding body of work untouched by her contemporaries.  This was evident at her extraordinary funeral last year on August 31st 2018 which was televised –  the full nine hours without commercials – and I watched Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, Shirley Caesar, Ariana Grande, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Ron Isley, Faith Hill, Smokey Robinson, Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Holliday and many more tearing the roof off the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit without ever reaching the vocal heights of the Queen herself. Which is how it should be.  Although I have to say Chaka Khan was outstanding.

*

The first Aretha Franklin record I heard was I Say A Little Prayer  in the mid-sixties.

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup (Makeup)
I say a little (Prayer for you)
And while I’m combing my hair now
And wondering what dress to wear now (Wear now)
I say a little (Prayer for you)

Written by Bacharach & David, originally a hit for Dionne Warwick, Bacharach apparently preferred Aretha’s version.  I was eleven years old and the song has stuck with me ever since.  It was the signature sound of Aretha Franklin, pop gospel, unmistakably her regardless of who wrote the song, the essence of soul music, the swing of her magnificent voice swooping between the cadences of her backing singers The Sweet Inspirations over an irresistible beat.  At some point after that I heard Natural Woman then Respect.   I Never Loved A Man didn’t figure until my early twenties and my previously documented Soul Education (My Pop Lives #98 and #79 for example).  The story behind the song I discovered when I read Peter Guralnick’s book Sweet Soul Music.  There was no Youtube when I was a young man.  The odd TV documentary, records, and books.

The first Guralnick book I’d read was Last Train To Memphis which is about a young Elvis Presley, Sun Records and that bottled lightning moment through to the Army call-up.  It’s one of the finest biographies I have ever read and I recommend it to you, even if you’re not a strong Elvis fan.  It led me to his other music writing –  Feel Like Going Home about the blues and Lost Highway about country music, others.  The Aretha story goes something like this.

Some facts – she had a child when she was 12 years old,  her mother died before she was ten, she was a civil rights activist, friends with Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston and her daughter Whitney.   She had a natural gift.  Aretha Franklin signed with Atlantic after a number of relatively fruitless years singing for Columbia Records – showtunes, blues standards, pop songs.  The arrangements didn’t suit her voice and the results are a mismatch, underwhelming.

Her reputation in the business was huge though partly thanks to her long musical childhood in Detroit singing in her father’s the Reverend C.L. Franklin’s New Bethel Baptist Church or at the piano in the parlour at home from the age of five, with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Shirley Caesar or Dr King in the room.  They all knew her father who was himself a powerhouse preacher and a powerful member of the Baptist Church. Everyone knew she was a phenomenon, but how to record that mighty voice?  Producer Jerry Wexler decided to send her down south to Alabama with engineer Tom Dowd – to the FAME studio, in Muscle Shoals up near the Tennessee border.  Run by Rick Hall, it had a signature sound which had been used by Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Solomon Burke, Etta James and Arthur Alexander among many others.

Spooner Oldham was on the piano. Ken Laxton on trumpet, King Curtis & Charles Chalmers on tenor saxophones, Willie Bridges on baritone, Chips Moman & Jimmy Johnson on guitars, Tommy Cogbill on bass guitar, and Roger Hawkins on drums.   They decide to start with a song Aretha had brought with her written by Ronnie Shannon.  She sat down on the grand piano and played the song for them.   It was an electric moment for all present.  Spooner immediately moved onto the Wurlitzer electric piano which provides the opening riff and the song’s groove.  After some hesitation and discussion about the groove, the song was recorded in a few hours.  Things were good.  Drinks were available, the atmosphere was relaxed.  Halfway through recording the B-side – a Spooner/Penn song called Do Right Woman, Do Right Man – trumpeter Laxton flirted openly with Aretha. There was some laughter causing her manager and husband Ted White challenge Laxton and there were fisticuffs.  Next minute White is walking into the booth and demanding that Rick Hall sack Laxton from the session.  Hall refused and there were more words whereupon Ted pulled Aretha out of the session and they left the studio and went back to the motel.

The session folded up right there with one and a half songs completed.  Rick Hall sent everyone back home or to their motels.  He then went over to the Aretha Franklin motel to talk to Aretha & Tom White in the wee small hours over a drink and try to relax them and convince them to come back in the morning to finish the album.  More fights.  More words.  White’s masculinity had clearly been ruffled and not for the last time, his ego interrupted the music.  Aretha Franklin & Ted White drove to the airport to catch the next plane back to New York.  Muscle Shoals was done. Ironically the only song they completed – Aretha’s first choice – was a song about being in love with a complete bastard, about being trapped in an abusive relationship.  She knew what she was singing about, and all of herself is in there.

The demo version with Aretha on piano and the drums marking time was released on “Rare & Unreleased Recordings” in 2007 – an absolute treasure trove of music that captures Aretha in her magnificent raw glory.  She was 23 years old.

The remainder of Aretha’s first LP on Atlantic Records was recorded in New York City, with the Muscle Shoals session players flying in to bring their particular sound to the album, but not, it should be added, trumpeter Ken Laxton. He was replaced by Melvin Lastie.  The results are historic, a landmark LP that thrust Aretha from struggling artist (I’m joking, she was always a superstar and she recorded nine albums with Colombia) to Queen of Soul overnight.  She sold a million copies of the song, and the album of the same name.  See this short clip below of her singing live and an interview with Wexler talking about that fateful night.

*

It’s hard to have lowered expectations with a musical legend.  Walking into NJPAC and taking our seats, the band was playing a funk shuffle to warm us up.  Full band, with five horns, strings and a grand piano centre stage. We had slightly elevated seats to the side, looking down onto the stalls and across to the stage.  We notice a man carrying a black bag out onto the stage and he places it under the grand piano and immediately a thrill goes through me.  The legendary story of Aretha touring America in the 1960s and insisting that her fee was placed under the piano in cash in a bag before she came out to sing.  If it ain’t broke.  And then the lights go down and electricity crackles across the space and she sweeps in, majestic, all-powerful, gracious, potent and delivers a stunning version of Jackie Wilson’s smash hit Higher & Higher.  She is in total command, the notes fall out of her mouth and yet pierce the air.  We smile at each other.  We’re getting the real deal.  She talks to us.  She sings Day Dreaming and Think and Don’t Play That Song and Natural Woman.  She goes off for a break and comes back wearing a huge fur coat which she offers to a lady in the front row.  The lady goes to take it and Aretha snatches it back with a smile like you must be kidding me!  Proper ghetto fabulous.  Like the very definition of the phrase.  Then she goes into a gospel number – Old Landmark from the Amazing Grace LP (the film of that amazing concert in 1972 came out finally this year) – and starts to testify as the band vamps behind her, telling us of her cancer, talking to the doctor in the hospital, her faith, her healing.  It is absolutely riveting, the entire hall is drawn in to her story, we love her more than we ever thought we could in this moment.  A cover of Gladys Knight’s Midnight Train To Georgia and then, those familiar chords as she sits at the piano, that groove from way back in Muscle Shoals, that moment that changed her life.  I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You).  She delivers it. 

It is a highlight of my life I have to admit.  The set closes with Freeway Of Love, Otis Redding’s Respect (of course!!) and finally The Way We Were – the Barbra Streisand cover although for me the definitive version comes from Gladys Knight.   We left the auditorium dazed and stoned with joy, replete, satisfied, glowing, renewed.  My head is filled with moments – Obama‘s inauguration.  Singing Nessun Dorma at the last minute when Pavarotti got sick.  Her sending my buddy Eamonn Walker a huge bunch of flowers when he was performing on Broadway with Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar.  Singing at Martin Luther King’s Memorial, providing – as she would at so many historic events – moments of peace and transcendence with her remarkable voice.  

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: My Pop Life #215 : Hot Pants – James Brown | Magicmenagerie's Blog

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