This week I’m going to try something new. It seems like a good idea after 300-plus Soul Serenade columns.
Throughout the history of popular music, there have been many great songs that were recorded by more than one artist. Most of the time one version is clearly better, or at least more popular, than the others. But occasionally there has been a terrific song recorded my two or more terrific artists and those records prompt debate about who had the superior version. Of course, it’s all subjective. Who can say if one version is better than another?
I’ve gathered together a collection of soul songs that have more than one great version, and I’ve built a little poll and placed it at the bottom of the column so that you can tell me which version is your favorite. You can also tell me why in the comments section. And I’ve started with one of the greatest songs of all, and the two most powerful versions of that song. Let’s begin.
Otis Redding wrote “Respect” and released it in 1965. He originally intended the song to be a ballad for a guy named Speedo Sims to record with his group, the Singing Demons. Speedo and his Demons tried, but somehow they couldn’t make it work. So Redding decided to record “Respect” himself, and he included it on his third album, Otis Blue. Steve Cropper produced and played on the record, and the background vocalists were William Bell and Earl Sims.
The Redding version of “Respect” was also released as a single, reaching the Top 5 on the Billboard Black Singles chart, and finding crossover success at #35 on the Pop chart. It was in many ways the record that kick-started Redding’s career.
Two years later, Aretha Franklin released her version of “Respect,” and it was a smash hit. Produced by Jerry Wexler, the song was recorded on Valentine’s Day in 1967. It was the same song alright, played at about the same tempo, and in a similar style, but the message that Aretha was delivering was clearly different. Lyrically the verses were the same, but the refrains were substantially different.
While Redding offered a short “But all I’m asking is a little respect when I get home,” Aretha began her chorus by spelling out the word then demanding that listener find out what the word meant to her before spelling it out again and telling her man to “take care … TCB” while the background singers (Franklin’s sisters Erma and Carolyn) intoned “sock-it-to-me” over and over. There was no sax solo on Redding’s version, but King Curtis provided one on Franklin’s, and Franklin herself played piano on the record.
I’m sure that at the time some people didn’t even realize that the two records were the same song.
Franklin’s record was a bigger hit. “Respect” appeared on her first Atlantic Records album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. The single topped the Billboard Hot Singles chart for two weeks and remained on the Black Singles chart for eight weeks. Her version became a Civil Rights and Women’s Rights anthem. Even Redding expressed admiration for it saying that “Respect” was a song “that a girl took away from me, a friend of mine, this girl she just took this song.”
But this is not about commercial success, it’s about which version you like better. Vote in the poll below, and if you feel like it, tell me why in the comments section. If there is enough interest, we’ll do more of these.