Aretha Franklin “I Never Loved a Man”
Raised singing gospel and touring with her minister father on gospel caravan tours, first accompanying his preaching on piano and later singing on his gospel tours from church to church, Aretha Franklin recorded her first album in 1956 at the age of 14, “Songs of Faith”, a album of nine gospel songs recorded live.
At 18, Aretha chose to pursue a pop career, like her close friend Sam Cooke, who she had known when he was in the Soul Stirrers, and signed with Columbia records. Columbia had little interest of what was best for Aretha, and determined to make her into a commercially viable jazz-pop singer, ignoring her gospel background and making touring and song selection choices for her based on converting her into a marketable and commercially successful commodity — but basically failing at that over the course of recording eleven commercially disappointing albums. Fortunately at the end of her Columbia contract, Aretha signed with the smaller, independent label, Atlantic Records in 1966 and Atlantic gave her the green light to not only chose her own songs, but determine how she would sing, perform and arrange them. Now in control of the artistic process, Aretha also composed songs, played piano and brought in her two sisters Erma and Carolyn to provide backup vocals. The result was an artistic and commercial success where Aretha used her full range of talents and drew on her gospel experience to provide a expressive, vital album, distinctive, yet intimately familiar.
On this new album, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You”, Aretha combines a wide range of musical and emotional expression coherently, consistently, and consummately throughout all eleven tracks. The vocal nuance and subtitles captured here make this album a classic that can be listened to over and over. This music and singing owe much to the gospel music of Aretha’s cultural heritage, but the lyrics are secular and, like traditional blues, address flawed social and inter-personal relationships.
Tracks like Otis Redding’s “Respect”, the song many people today directly associate with Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved a Man” and “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man” are particularly notable, but one can pick any song on this album to savor the beauty and artistry of Aretha Franklin’s exceptional vocal delivery. Appropriate musical support is provided, including King Curtis on saxophone.
In addition to this landmark album, Aretha provided us four number one singles on the R&B charts in 1967, two from this album, plus “Baby, I Love You” from her second 1967 Atlantic album “Aretha Arrives” and “Chain of Fools.” Also of note is Aretha’s 1967 recording of Carol King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” written especially for Aretha and appearing on her third Altantic album, “Aretha: Lady Soul” recorded in 1967 and released January 1968.
Track listing [from Wikipedia]
Simon Dupree & The Big Sound
It would be just fine for me to completely skip over Simon Dupree & The Big Sound, except for one extremely important consideration: three of the band members (brothers Phil Shulman, Derek Shulman and Ray Shulman) would later form Gentle Giant joining up with keyboardist and composer Kerry Minnear.
The UK was awash with bands of young musicians emulating American Rhythm and Blues. We all know about the early Beatles, Stones, Animals and Pretty Things. Few Americans, excepting die-hard Gentle Giant fans, know much about Simon Dupree & the Big Sound.
At some point in the mid-seventies, I had seen a lineage tree of where members of various seventy bands had come from: Keith Emerson of ELP had come from The Nice, Carl Palmer from Atomic Rooster and before that Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Greg Lake from King Crimson and before that the Gods — that sort of thing. Will this “ancestry chart” showed that the three Shulmans came from Simon Dupree & The Big Sound. I looked in the Schwann LP Catalog for any listing and saw none. Clearly any albums they ahd recorded were out of print. Doing some further research I found they had one Top 10 UK singles hit, “Kites“, which reached the number eight position.
Years later, in 1988, I was then very lucky to find the single on a juke box in the UK in a pub in Holyhead, Wales while sipping on a pint of local brew and killing time while waiting to catch a ferry to Dublin. I got out some local pocket change and played both sides, listening to “Kites” three times and the B side, “Like the Sun, Like the Fire” twice. Despite the mellotron, xylophone, gong, wind-machine, and actress Jacqui Chan‘s seductively spoken Chinese on Kites during the instrumental passage, I preferred the B side, which sounded closer to very early Gentle Giant and included a bridge with a soulful Derek Shulman vocal and a brief bassoon, oboe and clarinet instrumental section and a final brief marching band coda. Almost thirty years after hearing this track for this first time, I found out this song was co-authored by the one Shulman that wasn’t ever a part of Gentle Giant, Evelyn King, the elder sister to the Shulman brothers.
Simon Dupree and the Big Sound, based in Portsmouth, home of the Shulmans, was not named after any band member (the band was primarly the three Shulman brothers supplemented by Peter O’Flaherty on bass guitar, Eric Hine on keyboards, and dummer Tony Ransley.) Originally the group’s name was “Howlin’ Wolves” befitting of their R & B style, later changed to the Road Runners, and then finally replaced by Simon Dupree and the Big Sound at the suggestion of a local Portsmouth music promoter: Dupree was the name of an established and well known local family in Portsmouth.
The first (and only) album, “Without Reservations” is only sporadically interesting, partly due to the arrangements and level of musicianship of the Shulmans, and partly as providing insight into what contributions the Shulmans made to Gentle Giant compositions, particularly the first Gentle Giant album and the last three. (On all their albums, from first to last, Gentle Giant gave song writing credit to their entire band rather than any individual contributors.)
Simon Dupree would continue on for a couple of more years with several attempts to score a second hit after Kites, but with no success. At one point, for a tour of Scotland, they had to replace an ill Eric Hines with an unknown keyboard player, Reggie Dwight (later Elton John, of course) for a tour of Scotland. Dupree ended up recording an Elton John/Bernie Taupin tune, “I’m Going Home” for the B side of a recording of a James Taylor tune, “Something in the Way She Moves.” For whatever reason, Elton was not invited to remain as part of the band. Perhaps in some parallel universe, there is a recording of “Three Friends” with Elton John on keyboards. Whether that would have charted higher or lower than #197 on the Billboard 200 is open to speculation.
Fans of Gentle Giant can pick up all the Dupree recordings in the CD “Part of my Past” which includes all their studio-recorded tracks, mostly from 1967, with a few tunes from 1968 and 1969. As long as one keeps one’s expectations under check, there are enough interesting moments to make listening to this worthwhile and to further one’s understanding of the important role Kerry Minnear played in what was most exceptional about Gentle Giant and in why the overall low quality of “Giant For a Day” can be inferred to be due to a diminished role for Kerry Minnear, the composer.