The Queen of Soul. That’s quite a title, especially when you consider that there has never really been a King of Soul. Sure, James Brown was the Godfather, Ray Charles was the Genius, and Solomon Burke has appended ‘King’ to the front end of his name, but the King of Soul title remains vacant. So not only is the Queen of Soul title one that carries with it enormous respect, but it’s also one that Aretha Franklin has held for decades without any serious challengers to her throne. It’s a lifetime gig, like Pope.
“Ain’t No Way” was the b-side of Aretha’s huge 1968 hit “Sweet, Sweet Baby (Since You’ve Been Gone).” The record was produced, as so many great Aretha records were, by the immortal Jerry Wexler. The song was written by Aretha’s younger sister Carolyn Franklin, a talented singer/songwriter in her own right. Carolyn and another Franklin sister, Erma, can be heard singing background. Sadly, Carolyn died far too young. She was only 43 when breast cancer took her in 1988.
Back in the early ’90s, I tried my hand at writing a play. It was a rather awkward, clumsy affair, but in the key scene, long-separated lovers reunite in a local tavern. I included very specific stage directions that called for the tavern’s jukebox to be playing Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way.” My hope was that the song would help to create the drama that I was struggling with. When it comes to soul music, there is only one Queen. Long live the Queen.