With the release of ARETHA, a first-of-its-kind career-spanning Rhino 4CD box set that chronicles the recordings of the iconic Aretha Franklin from 1956 to 2015, the project’s co-producer David Nathan takes a closer look at some of the rarities, hidden gems and previously unreleased tracks in a multi-part series. First up is “Ooo Baby Baby,” Aretha’s 1979 duet with Smokey …

“Ooo Baby Baby” (originally a US Top 5 R&B and Top 20 pop hit for Motown group The Miracles in 1965) proved to be a perfect duet between the song’s co-writer – one, William ‘Smokey’ Robinson – and a fellow Detroit resident and longtime friend – one, Aretha Franklin when the pair performed it on December 1, 1979 on the popular weekly US television show, “Soul Train.”

To set the scene:  Aretha, nearing the end of her seven-year run of hit singles, gold albums and unprecedented accomplishments at Atlantic Records, was the subject of an hour-long ‘special’ hosted by “Soul Train’s” host/creator Don Cornelius. She had performed songs from her then-latest (and final Atlantic) album “La Diva” when she sat at the piano as host Cornelius chatted with her about the suggestion he had made for Aretha to include a special guest on the show.  When Smokey Robinson joined her, after some brief banter between Cornelius and the two musical icons, touching upon how long they had known each other and growing up in the same neighborhood, Aretha began playing “Ooo Baby Baby” when Smokey joined in…

The soulful chemistry and musical magic that was captured in that performance was undeniable as the attached videos indicate.   Putting together the 2021 ‘ARETHA’ box set for Rhino Records with co-producer Patrick Milligan, securing the audio for inclusion was a ‘must’ and courtesy Viacom, it is one of the spectacular highlights of Disc Three of the box set.

Worth noting also is that Aretha’s appreciation for Smokey Robinson & The Miracles is expressed in an adlib on another track on the box set.  The version of “My Kind Of Town (Detroit Is)” which was part of session of demos that Aretha created to present to Atlantic producer/executive Jerry Wexler in 1966 after she signed with Atlantic – and is included on the box set on Disc One – includes a reference to popular Motown groups of the day, including The Four Tops and The Miracles.

Aretha recorded Smokey’s classic “The Tracks Of My Tears” for her “Soul ’69” Atlantic album and for her third album for Arista Records, the Luther Vandross-produced “Jump To It,” she recorded the Smokey composition, “Just My Daydream.”  US television viewers got to see an incredible performance between Aretha and Smokey in 1993 on a special AIDS benefit entitled “Aretha & Friends: Duets” on Smokey’s “Just To See Her.”

Undoubtedly, Aretha at the piano, harmonizing and trading vocal magic with Smokey that December day in 1979 makes “Ooo Baby Baby” a very special occasion, now available for posterity on the ‘ARETHA’ box set…

‘ARETHA’ Box Set


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