Aretha Franklin’s “Aretha’s Greatest Hits” Reviewed
It is Autumn 1971, the 60s are well over, and Aretha hasn’t released an album since 1970 so Atlanta put together album # 21, a Greatest Hits recordings including for the first time anywhere (and all released as singles) “Spanish Harlem”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and the Ashford and Simpson, Marvin and Tammi 1968 Motown hit “You’re All I Need to Get By”. All three versions are excellent but “Spanish Harlem” is more than that, a brusque Latin beauty that takes the song where Ben E. King, more interested in the black soul heart, didn’t go. Opening the Greatest Hits compilation with a song people knew, but not via Aretha, Ms. Franklin’s Latin pop flamenco guitars, it is an arresting dance track with competing drums and tom toms at the top of the mix, a perfect piano solo (by Aretha?) which fades into a flamenco guitar, and fades out to the Gospel harmonies. The song is all romantic configurations and seduction, the observing Ben E. King, is replaced by the (always) testifying Aretha, and the second best version I’ve ever heard.
On the other hand, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is performed as you’d expect it to be, as Middle Of The Road Gospel pop, lifting it from Art Garfunkle’s strong and fragile lead to Aretha’s improvising lead that seems to excavate the song from somewhere it actually isn’t. “You’re All I Need To Get Back” is a perfect Ashford-Simpson track and Aretha uses it for vocal gymnastics, jumping here and there, working on her range and breaking through till she reaches the break and throttles the song, fighting back her backing vocalists and flying over their heads. The horns add lustre to a pure pop soul song.
The rest of the second greatest hits album of her career isn’t really up to much. “Respect” makes a showing, “I Say A Little Prayer For You” nearly matches Dionne Warwick’s original, certainly Aretha completely gets the Burt Bacharach tempo swinging chorus, “Let It Be” still sucks, and while everything else here is great, why is it here exactly?
Aretha had gone from the 1960s to the 1970s with no let up in quality.