‘The Best Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
August 16 has long been a day of infamy in the history of American popular music. It started in 1977 when Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n’ Roll, passed away. Forty-one years later, another member of rock royalty also died: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Though she was older and her death less of a shock to the cultural landscape, I still remember the exact moment when I heard the news. I was with my family driving home from Sesame Place in Pennsylvania listening to the Beatles channel on SiriusXM. The DJ interrupted to tell us the sad news and in Franklin’s honor played her version of “Let It Be.”
So today, on what would have been her 78th birthday, we added a wrinkle to our Best Covers Ever series. Usually, Best Covers Ever offers a many-artist list of the best covers of songs originally recorded by, say, Bruce Springsteen or R.E.M. This month, in honor of Franklin, we decided to compile a list of the best covers she herself recorded throughout her long and prolific career. As much as we love Me First and the Gimme Gimmes’ cover of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” we felt we would be remiss in our duty if we compiled a Franklin tribute list where you never once heard her sing.
From her very first album on Columbia Records in 1961, Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo, to her final studio album in 2014, Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics, she proved herself a master at interpreting other artists’ music and words. On this list, we have the Queen of Soul performing covers by a wide range of artists, including Adele, the Beatles, Elton John, Hank Williams, Giacomo Puccini, Sam Cooke and the Rolling Stones.
Regular readers of this site are surely aware that her signature hit, “Respect” is a cover of a song first written and recorded by Otis Redding. As Cover Me editor Ray Padgett noted in his book, Redding once said of Franklin’s cover: “The girl has taken that song from me. Ain’t no longer my song. From now on, it belongs to her.” We could say the same thing about any of the tracks on this list. Believe me, whatever cover you want, baby, she’s got it.
– Curtis Zimmermann, Staff Writer
The list starts on Page 2.