Aretha Franklin’s “Take It Like You Give It” Reviewed
It is 1967 and it is the summer of love and in March Aretha would have fulfilled her contract with Columbia and released her gamechanger on Atlantic Records, but before that there was one last same old same old, mix of Broadway and r&b to be gotten through. Take It Like You Get It opens with a blues take on the Hammerstein-Kern classic “Why Was I Born” to open the proceedings and takes it from there.
With four producers, including the legendary Bob Johnston (you remember him: he discovered Bob Dylan) and the music maven slash songwriter Clyde Otis, the album is the stylistic shuffling that hadn’t worked since 1961 and wasn’t working again. In deep retrospect, at least we have Aretha singing “Why Was I Born” or “Old Man River”, or so much more from the Great American Songbook before she found her bearings as the voice of black women, all women, and everyone else in the USA and the world.
The Columbia recordings stand as singing but not as much else, with exceptions, the nine albums (there was also the Gospel album, remember) find some major players in the music business, beyond baffled how to get a woman with the strongest, most deeply felt voice in pop to break big. The problem is a carefulness that backfired. Unable to see what worked for Aretha, Bob and crew consistently through the kitchen sink at her. Gospel ain’t happening, how about some Motown. No? The Mills Brothers? Rodgers and Hammerstein? Old school spirituals. Something, anything.
it didn’t work.
Oh, it wasn’t terrible, but what needed was what Jerry Wexler gave her soon after, a consistent musical vision that worked with whom Aretha really was, Having Aretha sing “Tighten Up Your Tie, Button Up Your Jacket (Make It For The Door),” a clever kiss off song, should work and it is OK but Aretha’s singing is a little distant, she doesn’t get down on it and it isn’t a good enough song. “Her Little Heart Went To Wonderland” is minor Buddy Kaye and Aretha isn’t fully invested, and she isn’t helped, yet again, by good but not inspired house musicians. “Lee Cross” is a Gospel sounding stomper, and one of the better moments on the album, though somebody should have turned up the bass. Come to think of it, Columbia should have paid Berry Gordy a ton of money and used his house band.
Aretha’s years with Columbia are so frustrating, It seems obvious in retrospect, Columbia didn’t trust their star so they tried to salt the mine with songs that were so unsuitable. They seemed to think Aretha was Lulu, that a miniskirt was a form of sound, that it was enough to place her in the at the moment, and outside the moment.
A change was, indeed, gonna come.