Three Reasons Why Aretha Franklin's 'Soul 69' Album Is Criminally Underrated

Soul singer Aretha Franklin holds a copy of her "Soul '69" album in the Atlantic Records studios on January 9, 1969 in New York City, New York
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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 1960, Aretha Franklin dropped out of school to pursue her dreams in music and by 1969, the 27-year-old emerged as pop's strongest female singers.

During the early 60's, Franklin sang a plethora of show tunes and jazz standards at Columbia Records, a chapter of her prolific career that is largely overlooked by the star's breakthrough decision to sign her next deal with Atlantic Records. 

The folks at Atlantic Records had been paying close attention and the legendary producer Jerry Wexler had faith in Franklin's to amplify her sound and musical style organically. Franklin - who now had the opportunity to sit at the piano and write her own tunes - approached her next releases with creative freedom. In less than two years, Franklin had 10 hit singles under her belt, including 1967's "Respect" and "I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You," and emerged as one to constantly return to the throne of Billboard'R&B Chart.  

For her 16th album, Wexler and Franklin went back in time as the spirited singer returned to her roots in jazz & blues. Produced by Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler, Soul '69 was unveiled in January 1969 as a compelling collection of covers. Though some passed on the album for its lack of original music or signature hits, Soul '69 offers a glimpse into Franklin's dynamic range, outside of category or standard. Here are three reasons why the Franklin album deserves justice within the significant spectrum of the Queen of Soul.

But Soul '69 is an excursion into jazz and blues, terrain Aretha knew well. For all her accolades and recognition as an R&B pioneer, Aretha is, at her core, a dynamic jazz and blues singer.

It may not contain any of her hits or signature tunes, but this might very well be the most awe-inspiring album she ever made. 

3. Her eclectic range

For those who dismiss this album as just covers, it is worthwhile to note Franklin's choice in covering material beyond standard soul. From John Hartford's "Gentle on My Mind" to Bob Lind's "Elusive Butterfly" and Smokey Robinson's cowritten "The Tracks of My Tears," the music legend breathes new life into the dynamic range of this heavy jazz album, which would make any jazz collector proud. 

2.  The blues

It's a curious change of pace to hear Franklin's soul-shattering vocals attend to blues-soaked tracks that are almost instantly recognizable to any American music listener. Standout tracks include the opening tune "Rambin'" that give justice to the blues of songwriter Big Maybelle and the heart of gospel in "River's Invitation."

1. The musical excellence

Franklin brings on the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and with the contributions of jazz greats Kenny Burrell, Grady Tate, David Newman, and Miles Davis sidemen Ron Carter and Joe Zawinul, Franklin asserts her jazz credibility to new heights. The singer delivers one of music's most ecstatic entrances in tracks like "Bring It Home On Me," and paired with the bombastic horns in a big band jazz setting, it's impossible to cap the tune once it begins. 

 

 

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