I’m not remotely qualified to write any sort of critique of the life or music of Aretha Franklin, but I can try to describe a couple of points in time where her songs came into my life.
On Sunday, 7/25/76, the family took an afternoon drive down along US 42, southwest toward Louisville; maybe it had started with a visit to my Aunt Birdie in Warsaw? I’m thinking at least in part we kinda noodled along the Ohio River, through Carrollton, maybe getting as far as Milton before turning home. I don’t know there was any particular purpose, just a day out together. We were out well past 6pm, the starting time for AT40 on WSAI, but the car radio would have been tuned there anyway. It was a relatively slow week on the charts after an explosive set of six new songs had arrived the previous show (the highest debuts then were “You Should Be Dancing” at #25, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart at #23, and “Let ‘Em In” at #22)—this go-round there were just two new songs that would peak only at #36 and #38. But the tune from the show I most distinctly remember hearing that evening in the car was sitting at #31: “Something He Can Feel,” by Aretha Franklin.
I’m not sure I heard “Something” back then except via Casey, but I liked it rather well (and it was cool that En Vogue gave it the cover treatment in 92). It would soon peak at #28, and fell from there to #45 on 8/21. So yes, it wasn’t played on this week’s presentation, but hey, I’ve broken the ‘rules’ and written about a song not on the featured show before. Franklin’s passing on Thursday is more than enough reason to do so again (plus, the powers-that-be at Premiere are offering it as an extra that can be played at the end of the first hour if affiliates so choose).
My charting years were almost identical to the longest gap in Top 40 appearances during her primary commercial period (between 67 and 87). There were the five weeks “Something He Can Feel” spent there in July and August 76, shortly after I started; it would be September 82 before she hit again, with “Jump to It.” That was just in time for the final four weeks I wrote down what Casey played.
I spent a fair amount of time on Thursday reading about Franklin’s life and legacy. Some of her music has been swirling around me pretty much since I’ve been able to make some sense of my surroundings, though I must confess to never having dug that deeply into her body of work. I’ve listened to as much of it as I ever had this past week, and I hope that this penance for a past sin will continue.
The two performances that got to me most on Thursday were both renditions of “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman.” The first came via a friend’s Twitter feed, about the time Aretha appeared on Murphy Brown in 91. The other was from just three years ago, when she surprised Carole King at the Kennedy Center Honors. Both moments were by turns sweet and spectacular, and they do want me seek out more.
The biggest bonus to getting the chance to listen to American Top 40 shows from the first half of the 70s is discovering songs I’d missed out on—this particularly applies to any number of fabulous R&B tunes. I was already familiar with “Until You Come Back to Me” and “Day Dreaming,” but I’m grateful that brilliant Franklin 70s pieces like her cover of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Rock Steady,” and “I’m in Love” are now part of my musical firmament.
Tomorrow, a little bit about the late great Queen of Soul in the 80s and slightly beyond.