Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
Aretha Franklin is back in the news again, promoting her upcoming cover album Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics and letting fly with her 72-year-old chops on Letterman. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter played his last game, and the Red Sox saluted him by inviting Michelle Brooks-Thompson from “The Voice” to sing “Respect.” She was promptly dubbed “Fake Aretha Franklin.”
Anyway, both events brought back memories of one of the undisputed greatest covers ever recorded. And the original’s nothing to sneeze at, either – this is Otis Redding we’re talking about, expressing as only he could what he’s got-ta, got-ta, got-ta have. “That’s one of my favorite songs because it has a better groove than any of my records,” Redding said. “Everybody wants respect, you know.” It was true – the song took him into the top 40 for only the second time, and the stampede to cover it began. Some of those covers were on the same level as the version by the nun in Airplane!, but a lot more of them rose far above that level…
The Ike and Tina Turner cover is good. In fact, it’s damn good.
The Rotary Connection cover is better.
And Aretha’s, of course, is best.
Ike and Tina mesh Otis and Aretha’s “Respect”s together, making a hard-driving version with plenty of grease. Not so much sexy as sensually gritty, it feels like a miracle this got on the air. And you’ve got to love Tina’s changing the line from “Take care, T.C.B.” to “Take care, T.T.”.
How could the Rotary Connection’s version of “Respect” come out ahead of I&TT? Because they made their own unique reworking of the song; now the soul has psychedelia to it, and the arrangement owes absolutely nothing to what came before it. There’s also the fabulous Minnie Riperton and her five-octave range to consider. Great talent meeting great audacity gives the Connection just enough of a bump to land in second place.
The first time Otis heard Aretha’s “Respect,” he famously said, “I just lost my song. That girl took it away from me.” Indeed she did, but more importantly, she altered it considerably. Among other things, she gave it a bridge, literally spelled out what she wanted, and changed Otis’s “Do me wrong, honey if you wanna / You can do me wrong, honey while I am gone” to “I ain’t gonna do you wrong while you’re gone / Ain’t gonna do you wrong ’cause I don’t wanna.” From authorizing fornication to walking the line is a mighty long journey, and it turned the song from a plea to a declaration, a proclamation, an anthem that demanded to be sung into hairbrushes all over the world. It even got Otis to change the way he sang it; this performance, broadcast the day before he died, shows him spelling the word just as adamantly as Aretha did.
We all know Aretha’s studio version, but if you haven’t seen her flat-out cook in this live performance from February 1968, prepare for her to sock it to you sock it to you sock it to you.