Atlantic was the home of soul music in the middle 1960s, and Jerry Wexler, one of the company’s key figures, knew exactly what to do with Aretha.
I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) – Aretha Franklin
Atlantic 2386 (USA) / Atlantic 584084 (UK)
Recorded at Fame Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Released February 1967
Writer Ronnie Shannon
Producer Jerry Wexler
USA #9 3/67
Legendary Columbia Records A&R man John Hammond discovered some of the most important and influential artists of the 20th century. He produced Billie Holiday’s first studio session in 1933, and was an early champion of “Kings of Swing” Benny Goodman and Count Basie. He was responsible for the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, From Spirituals To Swing that is remembered as a turning point in American popular culture. Later, Hammond was to sign both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen to Columbia, and in 1960 he signed the lady who later became known as the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin.
The daughter of the pastor at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Aretha was raised on song, both at home and at her father’s church, singing solos in church at age 8, and making her first recording at 14. In 1960, when she was 18, John Hammond snapped her up for Columbia. Though recognising her undoubted talent, the company had little idea what to do with it, choosing material unsuitable for her powerhouse voice, and in 1966 Franklin accepted an offer from Atlantic Records. Atlantic was the home of soul music in the middle 1960s, and Jerry Wexler, one of the company’s key figures, knew exactly what to do with Aretha.
Travelling to Rick Hall’s Fame studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Jerry Wexler soon found the magic he was looking for in the very first recording he made with Aretha, ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)’. Recorded on January 24th 1967, it was a song she’d found herself, written by Detroit writer Ronny Shannon. Wexler had planned to record an entire album in the course of a week in Alabama, but when Aretha’s husband Ted White got into a fight with one of the musicians, the session was cut short and the team returned to New York. Following the altercations in Alabama, Aretha Franklin never returned there, recording the rest of her Atlantic hits at their studios in New York City, but it was with Atlantic, under the auspices of their producer triumvirate of Wexler, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd that she made her finest recordings over the following 20 years. Hits that included her version of ‘Respect’ (recorded February 14th 1967), written by Otis Redding, ‘You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’ by Carole King, ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ by Bacharach and David, and her own ‘Think’ to name but a few. (In a re-recorded version, ‘Think’ later became one of the high points of the movie The Blues Brothers)
One of the most respected of soul singers, Aretha Franklin has recorded with a diverse variety of her peers including James Brown, Elton John, the Eurythmics, George Michael, Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra. Though her talent had long been recognised, Jerry Wexler was the man who harnessed it and made a star out of Aretha Franklin. When ‘I Never Loved A Man’ was recorded on that January day back in 1967, everyone at Atlantic knew they had a smash hit on their hands and Aretha herself acknowledges that the trip to Muscle Shoals was the turning point in her career. Released just two weeks after it was recorded, the song sold 250,000 copies in the following two, topping the R&B charts for 9 weeks, and reaching #9 on the American pop charts. It went on to sell over a million, while the follow up album of the same title released in April (which also included Aretha’s landmark recording of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’) reached #2 on the Billboard album charts. The “Queen of Soul” had arrived.
(Still active in 2016, readers should check out on youtube her stunning live performance of Carole King’s ‘Natural Woman’, featured at a tribute concert to King towards the end of 2015, also attended by President Obama and his wife)
Copyright © 2016 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Tony Burton, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.