A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this music.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Queen of Soul: The Best of Aretha Franklin is a 24-song (single-CD) compilation of hits by the legendary soul singer, widely regarded one of the greatest vocalists of all time. Every song here made it to the Top 20 on the Billboard "Hot 100" singles chart in the 1960s and '70s, and most are bona fide classics, including "Respect," "Chain of Fools," "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman," "Think," "Baby I Love You," and "I Say a Little Prayer," to name only a handful. Most of Franklin's songs are about relationships, both good and bad, with a fair number dealing with mean, mistreating men and messy breakups. But love-gone-wrong rarely sounds this good. The album offers a blend of up-tempo soul numbers and lush ballads.
What's the story?
The incomparable singer Aretha Franklin sang gospel music exclusively until she was 18 and then brought her amazing range and heartfelt style to secular songs -- although you could still hear a lot of "church" in everything she did when her incredible string of smash singles started in the late '60s. QUEEN OF SOUL: THE BEST OF ARETHA FRANKLIN is a compilation of 24 hits she recorded for the Atlantic label between 1967 and 1974 and includes all her best-known songs. (She also had hits for Arista Records in the '80s, but those are not part of this package.)
Is it any good?
There's never been anyone quite like Aretha Franklin, who has been widely imitated but never surpassed when it comes to soul singing. But is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Twenty-four songs and 75 minutes is a heaping dose of unbridled soulful passion. All the classic hits are here, such as "Think," "Spanish Harlem," "Respect," "Chain of Fools," "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman," "Baby I Love You," "I Say a Little Prayer," "(Sweet, Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," and "Son of a Preacher Man."
Some of the lesser-known second-tier hits are delightful, too: the funky, James Brown-ish "Rock Steady," the '50s-influenced "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)," the country-tinged "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," and a stirring, gospel-drenched rendering of "Bridge over Troubled Water." But there also are a fair number of easy-listening ballads that are not particularly compelling -- although all are magnificently sung. And the Aretha-ized version of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" (which is arranged to sound like "Respect") falls under the category of "Nice try, Lady Soul...but no."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Aretha Franklin's role in pop and R&B history. Why do you think she was nicknamed the Queen of Soul?
Can you hear Aretha Franklin's influence in other singers, male or female? Name a few contemporary soul artists, and discuss how the genre has both evolved and stayed true to its roots.
Why do you think Franklin's songs have continued to stay popular? What makes an artist "iconic"?