A lot of remarkable singers came up through the Baptist Church, and Aretha Franklin, whose father was the famous-in-his-day Rev. C.L. Franklin, was one of them. For a gospel singer to transition to secular music was no small matter in those days, and Franklin didn’t have much success with it at first: she was a fairly minor pop singer for the better part of the ’60s. The session that produced “I Never Loved a Man” was the turning point in her career. For the first time, she got to simply play piano and sing the way she’d grown up singing, backed by a first-rate soul band (the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section). It’s an earthshaking, hair-raising performance, with an unprecedented honesty about eros — and the song’s sly subtext is that it could also be addressed to God. Finally unleashed, Franklin’s mighty voice went on to dominate R&B for years. It’s still the gold standard of soul singing.
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