“Angel” by Aretha Franklin (1973)

There was a lot of talent in the Franklin family. Dad C.L. was the Grandaddy of the modern preacher (so I guess we have him to thank for dudes like Creflo Dollar and Bishop Eddie Long? Hmmmm…) Sister Erma is most famous for recording the original version of “Piece Of My Heart”, a song most famous in its rendition by Janis Joplin. Sister Carolyn recorded as Baby Dynamite and also co-wrote some of Aretha (who needs no introduction)’s biggest hits, like 1973′s “Angel”. It was the highlight of Aretha’s brief association with Quincy Jones, who produced this song and the album it appeared on, Hey Now Hey (The Other Side Of The Sky).

There’s plenty I can and will say about Aretha in future entries, but I’ll mention two specific things in this one.

-Her piano playing is a thing of beauty. I grew up Roman Catholic and have only had one experience in a traditionally “black” church. I’m also not a musician. But I have a pretty good idea of what church-reared piano playing sounds like, and this is it.

-Although Aretha’s leaned way too hard on the “screech” button for the past 30 years, and although she’s not my favorite soul singer or even my favorite female soul singer (Chaka and Patti run neck and neck for that title on most days), her ability to interpret the lyrics of a song was impeccable (way) back in the day. Aretha’s vocal grows more impassioned over the course of “Angel”, and then towards the end (”keep looking/and just keep cooking”) she wails as the background singers stay on simmer, offering reassurance to Aretha as she desperately searches for an angel. Oh yeah, she was an ace vocal arranger, too. Luther (who is generally the first person I think of when background vocal arrangements come to mind) clearly learned much from her, which you don’t need me to tell you if you’re already a Luther fan. The man pronounced himself an “Aretha-cologist”.

There is a fantastic late ‘90s cover of “Angel” by Simply Red, with assistance from Lauryn Hill & Wyclef Jean. Definitely worth seeking out, even if ‘Clef dates it with a brief interlude containing “Killing Me Softly” and “Around The Way Girl” references.

NOT QUITE FIVE STARS…

“And Your Bird Can Sing” by The Beatles (1966): Lennon & McCartney were such good melodists (and musicians) that the lyrics don’t even have to mean anything for a song to be dope. Which, of course, isn’t to say they weren’t master lyricists. Just that I’ve been unable to dig any particular meaning out of “And Your Bird Can Sing”.

Although, only after reaching out to my best friend Wikipedia did I learn that the “bird” in the title probably refers to British slang for “girl” rather than, y’know, an actual bird. Because it’s The Beatles. If they wrote songs about submarines and raccoons, why wouldn’t they write a song about birds singing? Even if you’re a lyrics guy/gal, stick around because a) the guitar riff, b) John and Paul singing in harmony (always a chills inducer) and c) the song is only two minutes long.

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