5 Deep Cuts From Aretha Franklin That You Should Be Listening To

Aretha Franklin was a titan of soul music. Much in the way that Elvis Presley shook up rock or Bob Dylan cut deep with his poignant folk, Franklin changed the way that people thought about soul. Her cultural impact is something no one can deny.

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From her earliest years, it was clear she had a knack for breathing in a song and exhaling something so moving no one would dare to try and do it better. With truly unparalleled vocals, no one needs to be told who is singing when an Aretha song comes on.

Everyone knows her immortal hits—”(You Make Me Feel) Like A Natural Woman,” “Respect” and “Say A Little Prayer” to name a few. But, peaking behind the singles curtain for a moment, you’ll find a wealth of material waiting on the b-sides and the album cuts that didn’t find the same success. Below, we’re going through five of Aretha Franklin’s deep cuts that you should be listening to.

1. “Drinking Again” (from Unforgettable: A Tribute To Dinah Washington, 1964)

Before she was crowned the Queen of Soul, Franklin was a young singer from Detroit whom Columbia Records couldn’t find a home for. They tried to mold her into the image of a pop star with jazzy tunes that often left her vocals diminished a stifled. It wasn’t until her fifth album with the label that Franklin found renewed inspiration.

Dinah Washington passed away in December 1963. As an homage to her, Franklin recorded 10 songs associated with her with a small jazz combo backing her up. Her powerhouse vocals were beginning to be set free on “Drinking Again,” which features a Miles Davis-esque trumpet line and the tinges of a gospel organ. The song teased a new side of Franklin that would go on to make her the icon we know today.

2. “Gimme Your Love” (from Through The Storm, 1989)

You’d think a duet between Aretha Franklin and James Brown would have received its fair share of attention, however, “Gimme Your Love” is still a lesser-known offering in Franklin’s catalog.

Released in 1989, the track opens up with samples of the Godfather of Soul’s wailing screams. As the song progresses, they share a light-hearted back and forth that leaves room for both her full-powered vocals and Brown’s hoarse cries. Feeling extremely ’80s with a healthy amount of synths and drum loops, “Gimme Your Love” commands respect for both icons.

3. “River’s Invitation” (from Soul ’69, 1969)

Of the onslaught of material Franklin put out during her classic Atlantic-era, Soul ’69 is perhaps her most overlooked. The two singles released from the album only saw middling success with Franklin taking a step back from writing any of the material.

But in the middle of what would be Side One, there’s a diamond in the rough—”River’s Invitation.” The somber number is shockingly dark. Originally recorded by Percy Mayfield, the song tells the story of a woman who drowns herself over losing her man. Over a shuffling blues groove, she sings, I spoke to the river/ And the river spoke back to me/ It said oh, you look so lonely/ So full of misery/ If you can’t find your baby/ Come and make your home with me. Franklin’s voice carries with it so much emotion, only she could have delivered a recording like the one below.

4. “The Woman” (from A Rose Is Still A Rose, 1998)

A Rose is Still A Rose broke a seven-year hiatus for Franklin in 1998. Working with producers like Sean Combs, Babyface, Dallas Austin, and Lauryn Hill, the album was a welcomed evolution for the Queen of Soul.

A standout track, though never released as a single, is “The Woman.” Going on eight minutes, the song is a tour-de-force showcase of Franklin’s upper register and her unparalleled ability to deliver a ballad. Letting the song run free and loose, “The Woman” is worthy of a revisit.

5. “You’re Taking Up Another Man’s Place” (from Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul, 2007)

In 2007, a two-CD set of previously unearthed Franklin performances from the late ’60s/early ’70s were packaged together in Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul. Amongst the unsung gems was “You’re Taking Up Another Man’s Place.”

Written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, the track is a slow-burning blues number that sees Franklin doing what she did best—wail out from behind the piano. The fact that this song didn’t receive a more prominent release goes to show that when it comes to Franklin, there’s almost too much great material to go around.

Photo: Atlantic Records

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