Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics

Aretha Franklin

RCA, 2014

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


When the great Aretha Franklin passed in 2018, the world lost one of the most influential and important singers in the history of recorded music. Franklin paved the way for so many women with a string of classic albums throughout her mid-‘60s to mid-‘70s creative zenith. Her ability to take just about any song and make it her own is almost unmatched to this day, and what has at times been overlooked is the fact that Franklin was a fantastic (and at one time prolific) songwriter.

The frustration, however, when looking back over Franklin’s recorded catalogue is an all-too familiar one with many artists of her generation. There seems to have been a point in the mid to late ‘70s when so many artists struggled to grasp a changing soundscape and incorporate it into their work. Many stubbornly carried on essentially making the same album over and over again whilst others threw themselves into the deep end to see what they might resurface with. Franklin was very much in the latter group, and although success did come with a couple of decent contemporary albums in the 1980s (1985’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Who’s Zoomin’ Who? is a personal favourite), it didn’t last and unfortunately the final three decades of Franklin’s recording career are far from impressive.

This album is the thirty-eighth and last ever recorded by the great Queen Of Soul, and whilst the idea was possibly a good one to begin with, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. This is largely due to Franklin’s long- time association with Clive Davis who, let’s face it – if he were a coffee, he’d be a flat white with no sugar. Davis has for decades specialised in taking in so many diverse artists and somehow producing them to sound alike, which brought both himself and said artists huge success; however, that is all it did.

Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics suffers the same fate that Rod Stewart’s output for Davis’ former label J Records did over a decade ago: that although it is competently performed and polished to a glossy sheen, both the players and artists fail to breath any life into the carefully selected material. Whether Franklin is reimagining “Midnight Train To Georgia” or completely destroying Prince’s “Nothing Compares To You” – jazz-style no less – the album just sounds strangely dated and flat.

Changing songs for the sake of change is never going to be a winning formula and that is clearly evident with several tracks included here, namely dreadful versions of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep,” which both feature horrid mash-ups and thus have been dubbed “The Aretha Version.” The only genuinely decent tracks here are a nicely paced rendition of Streisand’s “People” and a thankfully faithful reading of Dinah Washington’s classic “Teach Me Tonight.” The Supremes’ “You Keep My Hanging On” is given a lifeless run-through, as is Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” which is again mashed-up, this time with “Respect” for no apparent reason at all.

Franklin’s vocals across the album are mostly fine, save for a lot of unnecessary wailing, which it seems was intentional as if to remind the listener that this woman was once the vocal powerhouse of an entire generation. The session players, however, have phoned this one in; background vocals come in and out, karaoke style, and in true Clive Davis form, the entire album just sounds lifeless and generic – not a great way to send off the Queen Of Soul.

Rating: D-

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