There are a few defining moments where, with just a few minutes of recording, the course of popular music was changed. One bad key or a sour note could alter musical landscapes for generations. But the great artists become greater when the moments count the most.
That’s what happened on this day in 1967 when Aretha Franklin, considered at the time as an amazing talent wasted on bad songs, recorded the tune that would change her life, and the life of music everywhere, forever.
For the first few years of Franklin’s secular career,Columbia Records tried to force its star with the big voice into singing standards. The type of stuff you’d hear in up-scale smoky clubs where people show up to be seen, not to hear the music. The company had no grasp of the Memphis-born, Detroit-bred’s gospel background and blusier roots.
After Franklin’s time with CBS ended, she skipped over to Atlantic Records, where Jerry Wexler decided to start his new signee off with a trip down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Rick Hall‘s FAME Studios. Wexler requested for her to sing a blues number written previously by Ronny Shannon. She obliged, and shortly after, Wexler knew he had a hit with I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You). Franklin said in later years that, along with the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, she was told just to “sit on the piano and sing.” She wasn’t given that freedom in the past and the gamble paid off for Wexler and Atlantic.
The only bad news from the session came from Franklin’s notoriously possessive then-husband and manager, Ted White. After the recordings, White claimed that he saw one of the backing musicians flirting with his wife. He said that Aretha would never record there again.
To meet the demand, Wexler brought Franklin, White and a handful of the musicians from that session back to New York to record the b-side, Do Right Woman/Do Right Man.
The single shot to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and topped the R&B listings, becoming Franklin’s first hit. When DJs flipped the platter over, “Do Right…” became a hit of its own, peaking at No. 37 R&B. That kicked off a streak that saw 12 of the next 14 singles released by Franklin crack top 10 R&B.
“I Never Loved…” was received so well that Franklin chose it as the title of her first Atlantic studio album. The LP shattered expectations and solidified her as a star while selling more than one-million copies.
And it all started with a little recording session on this day.