In the winter of my junior year in high school, Donald Fagen’s character, in the midst of trying to get high with and seduce someone much younger, made a lament about Those Young People Today: “‘Hey Nineteen, that’s ‘Retha Franklin.’ / She don’t remember the Queen of Soul.” I kinda get where this comes from, as Franklin hadn’t hit the Top 10 in over six years by the end of 80 (and it had been more than four years without a pop Top 40 hit). On the other hand, there was a serious flaw with the timing: she’d jumped back on the scene with a juicy cameo that summer in The Blues Brothers, giving a blistering performance of “Think.” Regardless, this almost seventeen-year-old was certainly aware of Aretha, and besides, within five years, anyone born in 61 would have all the reason in the world to know about her.
“Freeway of Love” (#5, headed toward #3) wasn’t one of my particular favorites in that summer of 85, but I grant you it’s a quality jam, perfect for its time of year. It breathed new life into Franklin’s career, maybe even made her somewhat hip again. As for me, I’m pretty sure I like “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” best among the songs on which she appeared during the last half of the 80s.
I saw Ms. Franklin in concert while I was at Illinois. It was in the Assembly Hall, likely either in 90 or 91—I believe that Toby, Greg, and Katie also went. I doubt I fully appreciated the opportunity, though I didn’t hesitate a bit in agreeing to go. I believe our seats were pretty decent, fairly center-stage. My recollection is that she came across as a bit of a diva, and even if I don’t remember many particulars now, I’m quite grateful to have gone. She was just in her late 40s then, though somehow I imagined her being older; one can be pretty ignorant at ages beyond 19.