There were plenty of classic songs that were turned into legendary compositions thanks to Aretha Franklin. Due to her unmatched vocal prowess and commanding stage presence, Franklin was one of the few artists who could take just about any song and transform it into her own. If you were willing to let Franklin do a rendition of your track, just be prepared to say goodbye: by and large, it wouldn’t be your song anymore.

Otis Redding knew this. As the writer and original performer of ‘Respect’, Redding had a solidly popular original version of the track that appeared on his 1965 studio album Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul. Of course, that was all null and void once Franklin recorded her chart-topping cover of the song in 1967. With a radical rearrangement, including a new bridge section and some swapped lyrics, Franklin took full ownership of ‘Respect’ and refused to give it back.

Redding even acknowledged this when he arrived at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. It was his first major exposure to mainstream pop audiences, and Redding wasn’t about to let it slip through his fingers. Storming the stage with Booker T and the MGs, Redding ran through his live set with feverish energy. By the time he got to ‘Respect’, he acknowledged that it was “a song a girl took away from me, a good friend of mine. This girl, she just took this song, but I’m still gonna do it anyway.”

In 2014, Franklin spoke with Rolling Stone and was asked to name some of her favourite songs of all time. Her picks included choice cuts from Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, The Four Tops, and Anita Baker, plus oddball choices like Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ and a sermon from her father. Only one song from her own catalogue made it into the list, but it’s no surprise that Franklin highlighted ‘Respect’ as one of her favourites.

“What can I say about this one? Well, I just love it,” Franklin said. “Of course, that became a mantra for the civil rights movement. ‘Respect’ is just basic to everyone: everybody wants it… It’s basic to mankind. Perhaps what people could not say, the record said it for them.”

“I remember recording it with the Memphis Horns down in Muscle Shoals,” she adds. “Great session, great players. I had no idea it would become the hit it became. No idea. My sister Caroline and I got together for the backup vocals. And during that time, in Detroit, there was a cliché called ‘sock it to me,’ and I decided to put that in the background: ‘sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me.’ There was nothing sexual about that. It’s like if you gave me a high five.”

“I don’t think I was a catalyst for the women’s movement. As far as I know, that was Gloria Steinem’s role,” Franklin claimed. “But if I were, so much the better. Women did, and still do, need equal rights. We’re doing the same job, we expect the same pay, and the same respect. I never get tired of singing it. I really love it. And I find new ways to just keep it fresh for me, without changing exactly what it is people heard on the record.”


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