Find out what it means to me: 7 fascinating facts about Aretha Franklin's groundbreaking hit Respect
We pay tribute to the Queen of Soul's unforgettable song, which became an anthem for changing times
This week we got the terrible news that the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, has died. She was 76 years old.
Franklin was widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the modern era, an artist who was heaped with music's highest honours — she won 18 Grammys and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — and inspired generations of musicians who followed.
She was also revered within the women's rights and civil rights movements as they swept North America at the same time Franklin's bold, unflinching hits were climbing the charts.
She was so beloved that all it takes is the mere mention of her first name — Aretha — and everyone knows exactly who is being spoken about.
Franklin had dozens of hits in her time, among them, (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, I Say a Little Prayer, Chain of Fools, Ain't No Way, Think, The House That Jack Built, I Knew You Were Waiting and Freeway of Love, to name just a few.
But of course her greatest hit of all time, and the song most strongly associated with the soul icon, is Respect. So in honour of Aretha, here are seven facts about the legendary track.
It wasn't her song – until she made it her song
Respect is so strongly associated with Aretha Franklin that some don't realize it's actually an adapted cover of Otis Redding's 1965 hit, which was originally written by Redding for Speedo Sims. When Redding sang the song, it was a demand for respect from a woman when a man comes home from work; when performed by Franklin — complete with the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" section that didn't appear in the original — it was meant as a woman demanding equality.
Franklin's cover was a much bigger success
Although Respect was a hit for Otis Redding, reaching the top five of the Billboard Black Singles chart, Franklin's rendition spent two weeks at number one on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, and eight weeks on the Black Singles chart.
Redding reportedly didn't like that he had been one-upped by the fast-rising 25-year-old Franklin, and at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival he quipped, "This is a song that a girl took away from me, a good friend of mine. This girl she just took this song. But I'm going to do it anyway." In later performances he added Franklin's "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and "take care, TCB" which were enormous nods to the young singer's success.
It was recorded in just a couple of takes
Rock 'n' roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham, who played keyboard on the track, says the recording was very straightforward, and that all it took was a couple of takes — but everyone involved knew right away that it was something special.
Said Aretha in a Time article, "When we recorded Respect and Natural Woman in the studio, everyone — the musicians and singers — stood up. We were on air, really happy about the takes. My producer at the time, Jerry Wexler, a VP of Atlantic Records, said, 'Let's wait until tomorrow night this time. If we feel the same way tomorrow, if we're still standing on air about it, we probably have a hit.' He would still be walking on air to this day."
The backup vocalists on Franklin's recording are her sisters — literally
The backup vocals are such an essential part of Franklin's recording — the "hoos" at the beginning, the "just a little bits" and the "sock it to mes" that follow R-E-S-P-E-C-T — and it turns out they were performed by Franklin's younger sister Carolyn and her older sister Erma. According to an interview with Franklin on NPR, Carolyn also helped pen that signature part of the track.
"My sister Carolyn and I got together and — I was living in a small apartment on the west side of Detroit, piano by the window, watching the cars go by — and we came up with that infamous line, the 'sock it to me' line," Franklin told NPR. "Some of the girls were saying that to the fellas, like 'sock it to me' in this way or 'sock it to me' in that way. It's not sexual. It was nonsexual, just a cliché line."
The song became an anthem for the feminist and civil rights movements
Released on April 29, 1967, Franklin's rendition came at a time when the feminist and civil rights movements were sweeping America, and both movements adopted the song as an anthem demanding equal footing. When asked about her bold stance at the time, Franklin told the Detroit Free Press, "I don't think it's bold at all. I think it's quite natural that we all want respect — and should get it."
Legendary soul producer and Atlantic Records head Jerry Wexler, who produced the Franklin track, said the recording was "global in its influence, with overtones of the civil-rights movement and gender equality. It was an appeal for dignity."
It has been covered countless times
The song has appeared in countless films, TV shows and commercials — from St. Elmo's Fire to Family Matters to a Pepsi commercial — and has been covered by legions of artists, among them Diana Ross and the Supremes with the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and Joss Stone.
When asked how she feels about all of the covers, Franklin said she approves, and calls it "the sincerest form of flattery." Franklin herself also performed the song in the 1998 sequel to The Blues Brothers.
It remains one of the most important pop songs of all time
The hit sent Franklin's star into the stratosphere, earning two Grammys for best rhythm and blues recording and best rhythm and blues solo female vocal performance. It was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2002, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry, and it was later named among the "Songs of the Century" by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.