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Aretha Franklin’s “La Diva” Reviewed

Album # 32 by the great one needs a few bullet points:

  • Her twelfth and final album for Atlantic
  • Her late to the party disco album
  • Her worst selling Atlantic album ever
  • The fifth and final of her albums never given wither a CD release or a streaming release (the mind, in fact boggles)
  • “Getting Mighty Crowded”‘s Van McCoy’s final album before his untimely passing
  • plus (according to Robert Christgau): arrangements by Richard Gibbs and Arthur Jenkins (rhythm only) and Zulema Cusseaux and Skip Scarborough (rhythm plus orchestration)

The year is 1979 and a year later Aretha Meets Clive Davis and Act III of her career begins in earnest. But in 1979 this didn’t do it for her audience and it’s hard to say why, while it is true Van McCoy was no Arif Mardin (who Clive would include as a producer on Aretha’s first Arista release), the man who wrote “Getting Mighty McCoy” may have been a journeyman r&b guy, he still managed to make the journey.

Till then, La Diva deserves a serious reconsideration, nonstop disco with forays in soul and funk, mountains of horns, McCoy wasn’t the greatest and it has been reported that Aretha didn’t want it released on CD but where else as can you hear Aretha singing back up to Aretha? The second side was sunk by McCoy’s cloying “You Brought Me Back to Life” and superbly sung but essentially under weaned “The Feeling”. But the first side works well, the late great r&b songwriter and singer Lalome Washburn’s “It’s Gonna Get a Bit Better” is a lit, blast of funky brass and barnburning ovals and Aretha’s own “Honey, I Need Your Love” is a lost masterpiece and her voice on the bridge and coda is a moment of sublimity.

Despite the sag on the second side La Diva deserved to have been a successful closer to twelve years of soul magnificence, Atlantic shouldn’t have sold it as a disco album and make people get the impression Franklin was crowding into the sound of the moment and while commercial considerations were commercial considerations, it isn’t a straight up disco album, it is disco plus and a wonderful sound. Bye Bye Atlantic Records

Grade: B+

2 Comments

  1. Jeremy Shatan on July 27, 2022 at 11:14 am

    Nicely done – I was just listening to Sweet Passion from 77 and marveling at how good most of it was. Tough to be a legend!

  2. Benny on August 9, 2022 at 5:11 pm

    Nice article, thanks. It must have been a very rough period for Aretha, being used to having hits and acclaim previously, and then dealing with these long, dry spells. Hearing so many other singers getting lots of airplay while she was getting none would have been tough. This is also around the time when her father was shot (and would be in a coma for five years.) Even with its faults, the album is still very good. I wonder if we will ever see the Estate approve its release on CD?

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