It’s a golden anniversary for a gold single — and half a century of R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the Queen of Soul.
One of the most significant milestones of Aretha Franklin’s career came 50 years ago this week, when her single “Respect” muscled the Young Rascals out of No. 1 to top the Billboard Hot 100. The defiant soul anthem was Franklin’s first pop chart-topper and cemented its place as her defining song.
“Wow, really?!” she said Thursday when told of this week’s anniversary. “Well, ’Respect’ is standing up, as Jerry Wexler used to say.”
Wexler, the Atlantic Records producer behind many of her biggest hits, had convinced Franklin to tackle the tune in the first place: Songwriter Otis Redding’s original version had been a hit with R&B audiences in late 1965, and Wexler was confident that in Franklin’s hands, there was mainstream potential.
Redding’s song was an old-school masculine demand for domestic dignity. Franklin grabbed the sentiment and made it her own, her bounding piano and Detroit-cultivated vocals driving the track.
Over the bright and sassy backing of her sisters, Carolyn and Erma, she laid down the law: “All I'm askin' / Is for a little respect when you come home.“
“I think that hook line is something we all relate to,” Franklin told the Free Press. “It’s something we all appreciate and expect.”
The song has remained a fixture in her concerts through the decades, and it will be in the set list June 10 when Franklin plays a free outdoor show at Detroit Music Weekend, a new festival in the city’s theater district.
Franklin was just shy of 25 when she cut the track at Atlantic’s New York studio that February. She doesn't recall many specifics about the session — 1967 was a hectic stretch for the young singer — but she fondly remembers her “great time” working out the backing vocals with sister Carolyn.
That included the trendy “sock it to me” lines toward the track’s end.
“It was a kind of a cliché in the neighborhood,” Franklin says of the slang. “People were saying it here and there, and we decided to work it into the background.”
A year later, the phrase was a prime-time staple on Dan Rowan and Dick Martin’s TV comedy program.
“The next time we heard it, it was on ‘Laugh-In.’ I didn’t get any royalties,” Franklin says with a laugh. “I didn’t get a dime for that.”
“Respect” spent another week atop the pop chart while parking for two months at No. 1 on the R&B side. Accolades for the song piled up over the years, including spots in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry. It placed No. 4 in “Songs of the Century,” a 1999 ranking overseen by the National Endowment for the Arts, and last year was chosen No. 1 in Detroit’s 100 Greatest Songs, a Free Press countdown based on voting by thousands of readers and music experts.
Franklin’s song has been dissected in books and academic papers, held up as a groundbreaking feminist and civil rights statement in an era when such declarations weren't always easy to make.
But the Queen of Soul says she didn’t have to think twice.
“I don’t think it’s bold at all,” she says. “I think it’s quite natural that we all want respect — and should get it.”