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“The Best of Aretha Franklin” Reviewed

 

Aretha Franklin’s  The Best Of Aretha Franklin  is her 25th album and is also her seventh greatest hits compilations (not including an “Early Years” look back) up to its 1973 release date, remastered for the crib death quadraphonic sound. Quadraphonic sound would be known today as  4.0 surround sound, and in the early 1970s was promoted as the continuing evolution from mono to stereo. The clearest comparison would be the born to die Apple Music spatial audio. These only work for soundheds, the rest of us can’t see why we need it at all. Stereo lends itself to even modern pop (which can be aurally dire), moving the drums or the vocals away from the instrumental music. I used to turn down the vocals and singalong, Quadrophonic sound is more or less useless, and while I haven’t heard spatial audio, neither has anyone else.

To cash in on the new format, Aretha Franklin hooked up with Tom Dowd who rearranged a truly fine greatest hits collection, I know this because I did a playlist of the tracks and not because I bought one of her rarest releases with the CD going for (wait for it) $360 and the Audio DVD re-release for $140… neither of which I was willing to invest in.

The album is an early 1970s, twelve song greatest hits, and includes an alternate version exclusive to this compilation of “Chain of Fools”  and an alternate introduction  to “Rock Steady”. So in many ways except because it is quadrophonic sound a somewhat useless product except… the quality of this material is breathtaking, the only question is why include “Day Dreaming” and not substitute for “Young, Gifted And Black,” if they had “Best Of” would stand as the best of the best till Franklin’s 1985 30 Greatest Hits. “Day Dreaming,” composed by the diva herself (about Temptations’ singer Dennis Edwards), was a big hit but it leaves me cold, so consider it personal prejudice but otherwise…? Tell me what you would drop?

“Respect”
“Baby, I Love You” (not that one, hence the comma)
“Chain of Fools”
“Rock Steady”
“Spanish Harlem”
“Don’t Play That Song”
“Dr. Feelgood”
“Day Dreaming”
“I Say A Little Prayer”
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
“Call Me”
“Bridge over Troubled Water”

Songs that seemed at the time of their release were not as good as the originals, “I Say A Little Prayer” and the overwrought of an already overwrought “Bridge Over Troubled,” improves in context, and weren’t that far off anyway. Everything else, is even more magical, “Respect,” “Chain Of Fools,” “Don’t Play That Song” knock you on your tush as our greatest singer performs her greatest songs back when she was on fire (by which I mean her Atlantic Records) period.

As far as what to listen to when you listen to Aretha, put The Best Of right next to Amazing Grace and Sparkle.

Grade: A

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