Aretha Franklin - A Portrait of the Queen 1970-1974

Flash back to the era of '70s soul with this box set of vinyl albums from the legendary Aretha Franklin.

Aretha Franklin - A Portrait of the Queen 1970-1974 - (BMG)

A Portrait of the Queen 1970-1974

This box set is a double treat for Aretha Franklin fans who also like to listen to music on vinyl. It contains five vinyl LPs that were originally released in the early-to-mid 1970s along with a bonus disc featuring demos and such from that era, all of which make for an excellent snapshot of where Aretha was at musically at that time. Here's a look at each album.

This Girl's in Love with You (1970)

Franklin's first release of the new decade includes a cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David hit "This Guy's in Love with You" retitled to "This Girl's in Love with You" to reflect the female viewpoint. Slow and dreamy, Franklin delivers soul-tinged pop perfection on the cut. The album is mostly covers, also including a thrilling take on the Dusty Springfield-associated "Son of a Preacher Man," complete with a gospel-esque mid-song break. Aretha also covers two Beatles cuts, "Let it Be" and "Eleanor Rigby." Lennon and McCartney actually wrote "Let it Be" for Aretha and her take is spectacular with her heartfelt vocals and a sax solo; Franklin presents "Eleanor Rigby" as a rocking rave up that forgoes the original's melancholia. Also included is a take on The Band's "The Weight" and one Franklin original, "Call Me," a slow and simmering love song about missing that special someone. Notably, Duane Allman plays on the album.

Spirit in the Dark (1970)

Aretha had clearly been on a songwriting binge in 1970 as for her second release of the year nearly half of the album's 12 songs are self-penned. Set to a walking beat, the album begins with Betty Nelson's "Don't Play That Song" but the upbeat song will only encourage fans to let the record keep spinning, right into Franklin originals "Pullin'" which has a Motown feel to it, the love devotional "You and Me" and the peppy, gospel-flavored title track "Spirit in the Dark." There are more excellent covers too, including the slinky Jimmy Reed blues "Honest I Do," an interpretation of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin gem "Oh No Not My Baby" and B.B. King's "Why I Sing the Blues." Duane Allman appears on this album as well.

Young, Gifted and Black (1972)

"Young, Gifted and Black" is a Nina Simone song from 1969, a cut that is a perfect showcase for Franklin's voice that sounds almost like it was written just for her. The song sets an uplifting tone for the rest of the album which also includes Aretha's own "Day Dreaming," a mellow lilt that leads into the dance groove "Rock Steady," another Franklin original. Franklin mines the Bacharach/David songbook again for the jam "April Fools," Lennon & McCartney again for "The Long and Winding Road," does a smoky version of the Otis Redding/Jerry Butler co-write "I've Been Loving You Too Long" and revives the Delfonics hit (later covered by New Kids on the Block) "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)." Franklin's own "First Snow in Kokomo," with delicate music and soaring vocals, is also included as is a take on the Elton John cut "Border Song."

Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky) (1973)

Franklin's vocals are nothing short of spectacular on the album's title cut "Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky)," one of three self-penned songs here and clearly the album highlight. Aretha takes her time with "Somewhere," an orchestrated Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim classic that stretches here to more than six minutes, moving into a jazzy jam about half way through, complete with Franklin playing a piano solo and Phil Woods shining on alto saxophone. The other self-penned cuts include the vibrant R&B of "So Swell When You're Well" and the funky "Sister from Texas." Aretha and her band have plenty of room to stretch out on the lengthy numbers "Mister Spain," a mellow "let's snuggle" cut with a Joe Farrell flute solo, Bobby Womack's also cuddle-inducing "That's the Way I Feel About Cha" and the album's closing track "Just Right Tonight," a slow blues co-written by Franklin and Quincy Jones with several others and including a piano solo from Billy Preston. Packaged in a gatefold jacket with cool artwork inside.

Let Me in Your Life (1974)

Aretha begins this album with a take on Bill Withers' "Let Me in Your Life," a funky cut with an all-star band consisting of Bob James, Richard Tee, Deodato, Stanley Clarke, Rick Marotta and Ralph McDonald. All except a couple cuts here are covers, including Eddie Hinton's "Every Natural Thing," the Ashford & Simpson song "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (with Cissy Houston on background vocals and Donny Hathaway on keyboards), Bobby Womack's "I'm in Love" and Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)." Franklin forgoes the long songs here too; the set mostly features perfect-for-radio songs that clock in at around four minutes or under. An exception is a five minute take on Bobby Goldsboro's "With Pen in Hand;" also at about that length is closing cut "A Song for You," written by the great Leon Russell.

Pledging My Love: Session Tracks

Topping off this box set is this nice 11-song compilation of alternate takes, outtakes and demos. Most of these cuts may not have made it onto a finished album until now, but they are far from throwaways. A couple of songs found here were released in 1969: The title cut and a take on Isaac Hayes' "You're Taking Up Another Man's Place." On the other hand, "Are You Leaving Me," written by an unknown artist, is presented in demo form, Ashford & Simpson's "You're All I Need to Get By" is an alternate take and the beloved Jerry Lieber/Phil Spector co-write "Spanish Harlem" appears with an alternate mix. Two more cuts come from unknown writers and they're good ones: The earthy "Sweetest Smile and the Funkiest Style" and the blues of "Do You Know." Aretha's self-penned "Til It's Over" closes out this very satisfying odds-and-sods collection that stands up to the material in any of the other albums in the box.

A booklet with credits and notes on each song is included in A Portrait of the Queen 1970-1974. Order here (ad).

Share this article

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Pin it Share on Reddit email this article