A pair of four-disc boxes to celebrate the Queen and King, during their golden years, on Atlantic and Stax, respectively. There are bigger and more sumptuous boxes out there, with booklets and better packaging, but the point here is to get all the great music, at a more affordable price. In this case, it's around forty bucks each, pretty good for five hours of legendary stuff. Virtually all of Redding's recorded output is here, given his early passing, and really Aretha hasn't done much since leaving Atlantic in 1976, sadly. No dispute on her title as Queen of Soul of course, nobody touches her for that, and all the proof is here. With Otis, there are more contenders, and it would be hard to argue against Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, or James Brown, but I notice the Redding Family Trust has wisely incorporated the name The King Of Soul, so Otis wins in the courts anyway.
Redding's remarkable story and voice was cut short after a blazing mid-60's run, but he left a hundred or so tracks, thanks to the prolific recording standards of the day. In addition to 45 and album sides, the compilers do a nice thing here, bundling up several cuts from his fiery live albums, Live In Europe and In Person At The Whisky-a-Go-Go. These perfectly show what an explosive vocalist he was. He blasts onto the stage in Europe with his Respect, simply one verse and chorus repeated several times, before knocking them back again with Can't Turn You Loose. Then he actually builds the tension up more, with a ballad, with his amazing vocal on I've Been Loving You To Long (To Stop Now), shaking the rafters as he reaches for the high note, singing "..I try.....". Behind him, the brilliant Booker T and the MG's match his energy, wisely hitting the road for the most important dates. So, two good chunks of live music, plus all his solid hits, including six numbers from his album with Carla Thomas, King & Queen.
The trouble with his claim to the throne is also here, as we go deeper into this album cuts. It was common for most artists, especially in soul, to do their own versions of current hits of the day by their rivals, so we get Otis doing Smokey (My Girl), some Brown and Charles, and a bunch of Cooke. With the covers, sometimes he could make them his own, but other times, he simply relied on singing in his really big over-the-top voice to make his mark. Some are brilliant adaptations, like his stomping take on Satisfaction, but when he tries Day Tripper by The Beatles, well it's a more subtle song than he delivers. With only a few albums to choose from, the four-disc set does get some filler. Sadly, Redding was starting to move away from simply astounding belting when he died. As Dock Of The Bay, and some of the album cuts show, he and Steve Cropper were looking for a new, storytelling side to add. Still, we're talking about five years here, a remarkable achievement.
Franklin is ... hell, Franklin is the greatest. I'll just mention some examples. Hear how she takes Redding's own Respect, which is a pretty great song, and completely turns it inside-out, in every way. First, it's a bullshit lyric from him, a stereotypical macho blast about wanting "respect" (wink wink) when he gets home, after all, he's giving his woman all his money. Aretha rewrites the tune, demanding she get respect, her propers, when she gets home, in one of the most uplifting song for women ever performed, whether you call it feminism or not. She makes the song better too, coming up with the whole R-E-S-P-E-C-T part, plus the brand new arrangement. Check out her sisters Carolyn and Erma doing the "Re-ah-re-ah-re-ah-re-ah-spect" line. Further, I think she had the best backing vocal parts of all time. Another great example is her version of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, already with a brilliant string and horn arrangement, made twice the song with the call-and-response ("What you done to me") between Aretha and the others. Funky? My my, check out Chain Of Fools. And you can't accuse her of going over the top like Otis; when she did unleash all the power she had, which was actually rare, it is totally appropriate, like an opera singer would.
As with the Redding box, we get a nice live interlude, including the famous version of Spirit In The Dark from Live At Fillmore West, when Ray Charles comes out of the audience at Aretha's bidding ("I just discovered Ray Charles" is a great joke). Whether it was set up or not, it's a historic performance by the two. And kudos to the compilers for including three live cuts from her Amazing Grace gospel album, something often overlooked in her career in hits packages. Never forget she got all her training, voice, piano and arranging, in the church. Her performance on these spirituals is just as inspired as anything else here.
I know, I sound like I'm directing more love Aretha's way, but really I'm a big Redding fan too, you have to have large collections of both artists. These will do nicely.