Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Aretha Franklin’s name does not appear on the writing credits to “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” but as with so many songs she sang: It’s hers. No knock on the great songwriters (who also penned “Dark End of the Street”), but no singer goes in to “Do Right Woman” to cover Chips Moman and Dan Penn. They aim to pay homage to the Queen of Soul, dead today at 76.
As I often say with iconic singers, the best way to pay homage to Aretha’s music is not to try to sing like Aretha. You’re not going to out-belt her, and you won’t deliver any song with more soul, feeling, or passion. That’s not to say there aren’t talented soul singers who ably delivered this track; everyone from Etta James to Phoebe Snow has belted “Do Right Woman.” But if I want to hear the best singing in the world, I’m pulling out Aretha’s version every time.
None of my favorite “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” covers sound like Franklin. Few even fall in the genre of soul music. These artists below tried for something different.
Shevonne Philidor – Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Tampa singer-songwriter Shevonne Philidor can belt, no doubt. But I like hearing that powerful voice backed only by a lone electric guitar. As Adele shows every time she does some acoustic video session, big voices don’t necessarily demand big production. This sounds like if Aretha and Steve Cropper did a duo tour together.
The Flying Burrito Brothers – Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
I said in the intro that no one went in to cover Penn and Moman, but this may be the exception, as this Byrds offshoot went right from “Do Right Woman” into “Dark End of the Street” on their brilliant 1969 debut The Gilded Palace of Sin. It’s one of those records that periodically gets credited as inventing alt-country, and not without reason. I heard Chris Hillman and Gram Parson’s beautiful piano and steel guitar ballad before I heard Aretha’s version, and it’s still hard for me to consider “Do Right Woman” a soul song.
Joan Baez – Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Baez recorded this with a full band on her 1971 album Carry It On, but I prefer the solo a cappella version she performed a few times to open her sets in Bob Dylan’s 1976 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. Less is always more with Baez, who (as with many folk singers) could sometimes get surrounded by too much production. As Franklin herself sometimes showed in concerts, a voice this amazing doesn’t need any backing.
Arnold McCuller – Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Admittedly, Arnold McCuller’s arrangement hews closer to the original than the rest of these. His voice, though, moves in a very different way than Franklin’s. A smooth and classy blend of jazz and doo-wop, the Cleveland singer’s pipes have been backing James Taylor in concert for over 40 years. He can hit the big notes on this song, but unlike Franklin’s unbridled passion, McCuller always sounds completely in control.
Ricky Koole With Ocobar – Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Another more in the country vein than soul, Koole’s cover came out just last year (on the same album that featured a lovely Steve Earle cover). She apparently is better known as a popular actress in her native Amsterdam, but she can certainly hold her own with this song. And with the relatively stripped down acoustic backing, a voice has nowhere to hide.