Review: “Aretha” by Aretha Franklin (CD, 1986)

Today’s POP RESCUE from an uncertain future, is the 1986 album Aretha by gospel legend and Queen Of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Does this album command R.E.S.P.E.C.T or is it not worth Waiting for? Read on…

Aretha Franklin – ‘Aretha’ (1986) album.

The album opens with the beautiful piano alongside those trademark soul vocals of Aretha. She’s shining well before the beat of second single Jimmy Lee finally breaks. She’s joined by backing vocalists on this Narada Michael Walden written track, and the result is one that almost harks back to 1960’s in structure and melody and the relationship between lead and backing vocals in the chorus. It’s a nice little pop song, but sadly the track track failed to capture the UK public’s attention, and it stalled at #46 on the singles chart.

Next up is the familiar sounding of the huge hit single I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) with pop star George Michael. George was fresh out of Wham!, and singing with Aretha was apparently one of the things he had always wanted to do. This was Aretha’s first and so far, only UK #1 single to date, and they rightly won a Grammy for it. The track is written by Simon Climie of Climie Fisher and it is an absolute gem. Aretha’s vocal power really shines here alongside George’s softer vocals, and their harmonies in the chorus on top of the chugging 80’s guitar and beats is wonderful. Absolutely flawless.

Do You Still Remember follows this, and the tempo shifts to give Aretha a ballad. It’s a fairly paint-by-numbers musical track, that could easily be swapped with Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, or a Disney soundtrack, or even Mariah Carey – which makes sense given that Walter Afanasieff is on synths, and would go on to work with Mariah on some of her biggest albums. Aretha gets a few moments to show off her vocal range, culminating in the key changes towards the end, but over all, it’s a fairly heartfelt meander.

By contrast, a rocky cover of The Rolling Stones’ hit Jumpin’ Jack Flash is next, and stood as the title track from the 1980s film starring Whoopi Goldberg who appears in the video alongside members of The Rolling Stones, and with production by Keith Richards (also in the video), and a funky bass, thanks to Randy Jackson. Aretha sounds (and looks in the video) like she’s having a load of fun with this song and rightly so, it’s a gas gas gas. Despite this, again the UK single-buying public weren’t as convinced, and the song stalled at #58

Fourth single Rock-A-Lott follows this. This track has plenty of 80’s synths and vocal effects in it, and it definitely would have sounded pretty fresh at the time, although it does feel like quite a fairly long and a little directionless. The track failed to gather attention despite the video, reaching a paltry #84 in the UK single chart. However, in 1989, a sample of this track would help fuel the 49ers hit Touch Me to #3 in the UK.

Simon Climie’s pen returns for next song An Angel Cries, which is similar in tempo to his earlier track. The track is a nice little pop song, that effortlessly wafts along, punctuated by Aretha’s vocal range grabs. It’s a little forgettable, and definitely belongs on the album.

Swirling strings usher in He’ll Come Along, written by Aretha herself. It initially hints of disco but then reminds me musically of a mixture of some big 60’s Motown hits, and Alexander O’Neal‘s 90’s hit You’re All That Matters To Me. It’s a perfect companion to those, and really gives Aretha a musical assault course to throw her vocals over – and boy she really goes for it!

Penultimate track If You Need My Love Tonight acted as the album’s final single, seeing a US release only. The song is a ballad duet with Larry Graham of Sly And The Family Stone, and like her earlier duet with George, there’s a vocal contrast, but this one sounds like an odd couple in comparison. Aretha’s vocals are of course spot on, but Larry sounds a bit mis-cast here.

The album closes with Look To The Rainbow, a track from the play and film Finian’s Rainbow from 1946. It’s another ballad, but one that gives Aretha a narrative about following a dream, as the synths and strings soar around her. Her vocals soar with them, leading her to show off her gospel roots. It’s an uplifting, cheerful ending to the album, although it’s a fair contrast to the earlier 80’s sounds.

Lead single ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’.

Verdict

Over all, this album is home to some great examples of 80’s music, and it’s also laden with respectful nods to Aretha’s musical past, including gospel. Whilst Aretha’s vocals are used well and show off their sheer range and power throughout.

The UK’s appreciation of Aretha has been a little bi-polar chart-wise at the best of times, and this album might have helped fuel that. It’s a bit of a mixed bag – pop, a huge pop hit, gospel stage show, generic ballad, and a rock cover lead single. Even the front cover (Andy Warhol’s final artwork) screams fresh 1980s electronic pop… but instead it’s a wonderful soul singer covering a slightly disjointed range of genre.

It would have been fun to let Aretha go all-out pop on this.

Rated 3 stars - Give it a go!
  • POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 3 / 5
  • 1986 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #51
  • POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from an eBay seller.

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