August 1970: Aretha Franklin Releases "Spirit in the Dark"

UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: TOP OF THE POPS Photo of Aretha FRANKLIN (Photo by Ron Howard/Redferns)
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(Ron Howard/Redferns)

Aretha Franklin's Spirit in the Dark is the sound of a woman and artist breaking free of the chains holding her back. Namely, the men in her life. She'd escaped from a stifling Columbia recording contract to sign with Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records. The singer had also recently shed shady husband/manager, Ted White.

RELATED: January 1968: Aretha Franklin Releases "Lady Soul"

The resulting album pulses with nerve, energy and unbridled passion. Spirit in the Dark was released on August 24, 1970, roughly two years after Franklin sang at the funeral of civil rights icon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Aretha Franklin was an artist reborn.

The album's first single, "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)" was an straight-up hit, narrowly missing the top 10 when it peaked at #11 on the Hot 100 for the week of September 19, 1970. The #1 song in America that week: Diana Ross' "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

The second single from Spirit in the Dark was the title track, which made a strong chart run to climb as high as #23 on the same chart in June 1970.

On the b-side of the title track single was Franklin's take on "The Thrill is Gone," the tune made famous by B.B. King.

While critics lavished the album with praise, the Spirit in the Dark album made a solid chart run for such a deeply personal and decidedly R&B LP. It peaked at #25 on the Billboard 200 for the week of October 13, 1970. The #1 album in the country that week: Creedence Clearwater Revival's Cosmo's Factory.

Spirit in the Dark still stands as one of Aretha Franklin's finest full-length efforts in a discography packed with undeniable greatness.

BONUS BEAT: None less than fellow icon Ray Charles joined Miss Franklin onstage for a rousing rendition of the Spirit in the Dark title track for her legendary Live at Filmore West album.

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