Aretha (Expanded Edition)

Aretha (Expanded Edition)

Aretha Franklin’s 1985 album Who’s Zoomin’ Who? had reenergized the Queen of Soul’s commercial career, giving her a massive MTV and radio hit—the inescapable “Freeway of Love”—as well as a Grammy. For her follow-up effort, Franklin reunited with Zoomin’ producer Narada Michael Walden, and steered her sound even harder toward the Top 40. The resulting album, 1986’s Aretha, would become her second smash in a row—and yield one of the biggest songs of her later-era career: “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” her duet with George Michael. The collaboration had come together thanks to Arista Records head Clive Davis, who knew Michael had just left Wham!, and decided to connect the now-solo heartthrob with Franklin. Michael had a deep reverence for soul music, and was thrilled for the opportunity to sing with Franklin, flying to Detroit to record with her. They also made a flashy video for the song—a move Franklin embraced. Unlike some artists who’d shot to fame in the 1960s, Franklin was savvy enough to understand that she needed a presence on MTV to remain relevant (and besides, she enjoyed the costuming and performance). A big-hook team-up that spotlighted both singers’ powers, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” would hit No. 1 in the US and the UK—and earn Franklin another Grammy. Other key tracks from Aretha include “Jimmy Lee,” “If You Need My Love Tonight”—a duet with Larry Graham—and “Rock-A-Lott.” But the sleeper hit on this album is Franklin’s cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” featuring backup from none other than Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood. According to Richards’ autobiography, he insisted Aretha play piano on the track—clearly, he’d heard that Franklin was at her best and most focused when she’s on the keyboard. Her take on the song had a brief run on the charts, but today, it holds up as the best Rolling Stones cover of all time.

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