Diana Ross starred in a television special in 1971, and a soundtrack album was released concurrently. I’m too young to have seen the special (I wouldn’t make an appearance for another five years), but I played the soundtrack album regularly for a long time. The album boasted appearances from The Jackson 5 and Bill Cosby, and was closed out by a version of Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me”, although I didn’t know back then that it was an Aretha song. Got nominated for a Grammy, too!
When I did finally hear Aretha’s version, sometime in the early ‘90s, I was floored. Diana’s was sort of hammy, much like her live “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”, when she walks into the audience and shakes hands with people. Aretha’s is soulful. Well, duh. She’s the Queen Of Soul. Ree imbues the lyrics with a shade of blue that belies the cutesy tale that she says inspired “Call Me”: in her autobiography (which David Ritz tried his best with despite the fact that Aretha didn’t want to reveal much in the way of factual personal information), she says she was moved to write “Call Me” after observing two lovers on a New York street corner. They were temporarily parting ways: the departing boyfriend said “I love you!” The girlfriend says back “Call me the moment you get there!” It sounds sweet.
Bomani Jones brings up an interesting point, though: Aretha’s lyrical reading suggests that while she’s hopeful that he will call when he gets there, I don’t know that she’s sure that he will.