Aretha Franklin was signed to Columbia Records as an eighteen year old, before switching to what would prove to be a long standing association with the Atlantic label in 1967. Between 1967 and 1976, with the ace production team of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd, and Arif Mardin in support, Franklin racked up no fewer than an astonishing 34 top forty hits in the U.S. Some of the best known being ‘Respect’ (that’s R.E.S.P.E.C.T. to you and me), ‘Chain Of Fools’, ‘A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like)’, ‘Think’, ‘Say A Little Prayer’, and ‘Spanish Harlem’. It can’t be overstated the influence Franklin had in shaping soul and R&B music during this period. Her last top forty hit on the Atlantic label came in 1976, with ‘Something He Can Feel’. Aretha Franklin resisted the temptation to dive into the disco pool during the latter half of the 70s, preferring instead to take a break from recording.
Following an extended hiatus from recording, Aretha Franklin made a memorable appearance in the 1980 cult classic ‘The Blues Brothers’, where she belted out a blazing rendition of ‘Think’. Soon after she signed with the Arista label and resumed her place in the charts with 1982’s ‘Jump To It’ (US#24), but it would be 1985 that would mark the return of the ‘Queen of Soul’ to the upper reaches of the mainstream charts.
In October of ‘85, the Eurythmics released the single ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ from their ‘Be Yourself Tonight’ album. The song was a rollicking duet with none other than Aretha Franklin, and rushed up the world charts (US#18/ OZ#15/UK#9).
1986 saw the album ‘Aretha’ released, spawning the hit ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ (US#21/ OZ#36/UK#58), a cover of the Stones’ hit, produced by Captain Jack’s Dad, Keith Richards. The album also contained the song ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me). It was a duet that Franklin had recorded with former Wham! member turned solo superstar George Michael. Produced by Narada Michael Walden (and co-written by Simon Climie - see Climie Fisher post), the song was released as a single in early ‘87 and rocketed up the charts worldwide. By February, George and Aretha stood atop the pinnacle of the British charts and held station for 2 weeks - it was the first British chart topper for the ‘Queen of Soul’. The song was recorded in Franklin’s home town of Detroit, and the accompanying promo video shot in part with Michael and Franklin on separate sides of the Atlantic - Franklin had by this time refused to fly. But fly she did on the Australian charts, with ‘I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)’ holding sway at #1 for four weeks in March. The track also topped the U.S. Hot 100 for two weeks during April. For both Aretha Franklin and George Michael it was a triumph, including earning a Grammy Award for best R&B vocal duet.
Aretha Franklin continued to release albums and singles well into the 90s, and on occasion beyond, with moderate commercial success, and not quite the level of critical admiration afforded her at the peak of her powers.
Over the last 15 years Aretha Franklin has largely shied away from the spotlight, save for the occasional live appearance in concert with friends, and on occasion at award ceremonies. Included among those awards, are 15 Grammy Awards, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the first woman to be so), and in 1990 the Grammy Living Legends Award.