Stories about great artists - some real, some invented - pass into legend all the time. Sometimes they need a gentle push to separate fact from fiction. One such prevailing myth about Aretha Franklin was the notion that the Queen of Soul largely conquered the popular consciousness based on America alone.
What is true is that, from about 1984 on, Franklin did not travel overseas, owing to a rough flight in a small aircraft. ("That plane was dipsy-doodling all over the place," she later said.) But the same cannot be said of the earlier phases of her career. In fact, the first time anyone heard her in concert on record was at a European show: Aretha in Paris, taped at the Olympia Theatre on May 7, 1968.
Aretha in Paris came toward the end of a spared-no-expense European tour Atlantic Records put together for her following her whirlwind year of success in America in 1967. While "Respect" had shot to No. 10 on the U.K. charts, none of the other stateside hits had as much impact overseas. Perhaps audiences needed to see her to believe her - and, if Aretha in Paris is any indication, believe they did.
Before a comparatively intimate crowd of under 3,000 at the Olympia, Aretha shook the theater to its foundations with versions of her biggest American hits - "Respect," "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," "Baby I Love You," "Chain of Fools" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" among them - plus some beloved album cuts and covers that really showed the range her musicianship (a powerful opening rendition of The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't No) Satisfaction," "Dr. Feelgood," Ray Charles' "Come Back Baby" and even the Willie Nelson standard "Night Life").
As the month went on, Aretha met crowds throughout the continent; packing London's Hammersmith Odeon as well as venues in Germany, Sweden and The Netherlands. That September, her cover of the Bacharach-David standard "I Say a Little Prayer" sat in the U.K. Top 10 for six weeks, peaking at No. 4.
A musical revolution was underway. All Aretha had to do was show up.
The Genius of Aretha Franklin, featuring "A Natural Woman" and 14 other studio recordings, is now available on CD from Rhino Records. SoulMusic.com readers can get 20% off at Rhino.com with the promo code "ARETHA20."