1. Won't Be Long
2. Over the Rainbow
3. Love is the Only Thing
4. Sweet Lover
5. All Night Long
6. Who Needs You?
7. Right Now
8. Are You Sure
9. Maybe I'm a Fool
10. It Ain't Necessarily So
11. (Blue) By Myself
12. Today I Sing the Blues
13. Precious Lord (Part One)
14. Precious Lord (Part Two)
15. Never Grow Old
16. You Grow Closer
17. Who Needs You?
18. It's So Heartbreakin'
19. Rock -a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody
20. Operation Heartbreak
Aretha Franklin - Vocals, piano
Ray Bryant, John McFarland, Mo Wechsler - Piano
Clifton "Skeeter" Best, Chauncey "Lord" Westbrook, Bucky Pizzarelli, Don Armone - Guitar
Tyree Glenn, Jimmy Cleveland, Quentin Jackson - Trombone
Bill Lee, Milt Hinton - Bass
Osie Johnson, Belton "Sticks" Evans, Teddy Somer - Drums
Al Sears, Lucky Warren - Tenor sax
Stanley Webb - Sax
Bernie Privin - Trumpet
Unidentified orchestra and chorus
When Luciano Pavarotti was taken ill, who deputised for him singing Nessun Dorma at an awards ceremony? It was Aretha Franklin, who wowed the audience with her own very individual intepretation of the famous aria. Of course, she didn't sing it "straight", any more than she has ever sung any song exactly as written. Aretha not only has one of the most glorious voices ever but she is also one of the great improvisers. Her apprenticeship as a gospel singer taught her how to take music on adventurous rides, often up into the stratosphere.
Released in 1961 when Franklin was only 18, this album was one of the earliest to mark Aretha's move from gospel music to what eventually became soul. Aretha's transition from gospel to soul is exemplified in the first track - a secular song with a gospel feel. Yet the next song (Over the Rainbow) appears to be entirely non-gospel, although Aretha inserts an "Oh yeah!" into it as a reminder of her gospel roots. The freedom in her singing here is very like the liberties taken by jazz singers and in her later album Yeah!!! (1965) she was very much a jazz artist.
In fact Franklin's versatility presented producer John Hammond with a dilemma when he signed her to Columbia Records in 1960. He spent much of the early sixties trying to find the right setting for Aretha's extraordinary voice. I would have been satisfied if she had stayed in the jazz camp but she moved firmly into soul when she signed to Atlantic Records in 1966.
This album shows various aspects of her talent. The poppy Love is the Only Thing (with cooing chorus) is followed by the bluesy Sweet Lover, and the soulful Maybe I'm a Fool is followed by a jazzy interpretation of It Ain't Necessarily So. The original album consisted simply of the first dozen tracks; the remainder are various tracks recorded in Aretha's early days for sundry labels. They include gospel numbers like tracks 13 to 16 (complete with righteous cries in the background, probably recorded at her father's church when she was only 14) and the hit single Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody.
Even at this early stage in her career, Aretha was a remarkable vocalist. Seemingly inexhaustible, she could span the whole gamut from high to low, often accompanying herself at the piano. It is a pity that this album doesn't include more of her piano playing. Let us hope that somebody will reissue her album Yeah!!! on CD soon, as it contains much more of her piano work.