(Note: Originally published April 3, 2017. At the end of this article is a special countdown ranking Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin’s 50 Greatest Songs.)
When it comes to royalty, some reigns can be fleeting, while others can last a lifetime.
Queen Elizabeth of England, for example, gets to be queen for the duration of her life. It’s a crown the 90-yr-old monarch has worn for 65 years and doesn’t seem to be giving up anytime soon.
With the genre of music known as soul (and its close first cousin, R&B) now on the extinct list as far as mainstream music goes, the once-and-still Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin may well be its royal highness for eternity.
Yet in her case, Aretha – whose powerful blend of blues, gospel and soul was the soundtrack of a pivotal time for blacks in America (and for America in general) during the late 1960s and early ’70s – really doesn’t have anything left to prove in an industry that so often discards its old and embraces its young.
Still, Lady Soul occasionally re-emerges as if her career is on the line or her crown needs defending. She indeed presides over a court that’s seen many comers, all of whom have portended to be a queen of some form of music or another.
Franklin has weathered and witnessed the various queens of hip-hop/soul, disco, rap, rock and pop all change hands over the years from one diva to another.
Several of them have experienced more commercial success than Franklin, and one chart pretender even went as far as besting her record on the Billboard Hot 100, which I’ll get to in a moment. Yet, even with better numbers in some categories, no one will ever be able to out-diva, out-perform and out-duel this most enduring of musical royal figures.
And it’s for that reason that she’s still the standard-bearer among American singers. To wit, even in her seventh decade of recording (since the 1950s), the undisputed Soul Queen has been in the news.
First, she announced that she would be “retiring” from touring and focusing on a new album in 2017. It would be her first studio recording since 2014’s Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics and her 42nd studio album overall.
She then watched as a title she’s held for more than two decades – the most Billboard Hot 100 singles among all women – was dubiously toppled by current rap queen Nicki Minaj. In a span of three weeks this past month, Minaj tied Aretha’s number of 73 entries, then added four more to establish a new record of 77 chart titles.
It should be noted that Minaj established the record with a bunch of songs that charted just one or two weeks and many more on which she was the “featured” guest star and not the lead act. You’ll have to read this recent article to get a further elaboration on how that helped pad the rap Barbie’s questionable total.
Oh, and while Aretha has famously collaborated with other artists like Elton John, George Michael, George Benson, Whitney Houston, Michael McDonald and the Eurythmics, she has never been a “featured” artist on anyone else’s track. Her 73 Hot 100 titles are all the result of her being in lead roles.
Just this past Friday, she performed a concert here in Chicago to a full capacity crowd of 3,600 at the Chicago Theatre.
Franklin is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the first woman to be inducted), the UK Music Hall of Fame, the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and ranks at No. 1 in Rolling Stone magazine’s ranking of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
And, using a formula created by music authoritarian Joel Whitburn for his book, “Joel Whitburn’s Top R&B Singles 1942-2016,” which uses all Billboard chart data, Aretha Franklin still ranks second among all artists as the most successful R&B artist of all time. Only the late Soul Godfather James Brown ranks higher.
But, most importantly, the Soul Queen celebrated her 75th birthday on March 25. That birthday coincided with the 50th anniversary of her first (of twenty) No. 1 R&B hits topping the Billboard Soul chart, “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You).” That single reigned for seven weeks before nearly being replaced by her own “Respect,” which topped the chart for eight weeks (the two songs being separated at No. 1 by a one-week showing for Martha and the Vandella’s “Jimmy Mack”).
Even though 12 of Aretha’s 20 No. 1 soul singles were clustered in a five-year span from 1967-72, Franklin has remained a formidable force in the industry.
The fact that, despite the announced retirement and some prior health issues, including pancreatic cancer, Aretha is still standing tall while giving concerts and releasing albums in a nearly 60-year career during which she has amassed over 200 combined singles and albums, many gold and platinum records, countless Grammys and other award recognition, worldwide acclaim and an endurance that would be the envy of most people a quarter of her age, is nothing short of amazing.
So, you see, now is the best time to celebrate the Queen of Soul and give her her flowers while she’s still with us.
With that in mind, I’ve created this ultimate tribute – a special ranking of her 50 Greatest Crown Jewels – the 50 Greatest Songs of Aretha Franklin, in countdown order from No. 50 to No. 1.
In creating the list, I use the typical djrobblog criteria: chart performance, sales, endurance, influence, and quality (the latter being a subjective factor, of course).
Each entry has an audio or video clip, along with select stories about some of her biggest hits.
So scroll through this djroblist and enjoy the 50 Greatest Crown Jewels by the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, and feel free to leave comments with your own opinions here or on Facebook (or vote the songs up or down in the list).