“That girl done stole my song!”
The truly great songs are fluid. They mean different things to different people. They have an identity that changes over time. What might at first be revolutionary may live long enough to become staid, and comfortable. What was at once edgy and transformative may become stale and stodgy. “Respect” has had many identities to many people.
Here, in no particular order, are my “Respect” identities.
ORIGINAL “Respect” by Otis Redding (1965)
Otis Redding wrote “Respect” in 1965 as a man pleading to his woman to pay him the respect he is due. He works hard, he brings home the money. He doesn’t care what she does when he is at work, but when he is home…respect. Otis Redding was one of the greatest soul singers and performers ever, and his recording of “Respect” is good. It is lean and wiry with a great horn riff, pounding drums and bass driving the rhythm, and Otis’ gravely voice connecting everything. Otis’ recording of “Respect” is very good. It is far from his best work, but it is a solid part of his catalog.
REMAKE “Respect” by Aretha Franklin (1967)
Otis’ “Respect” was not a huge hit, so it was perfect, rich fodder for another artist to make their own. Aretha Franklin, who grew up the daughter of a minister in Detroit, sang in church choirs her whole life and was struggling to find her own identity in secular music. Well, she found “Respect,” and she found her identity.
As Otis Redding later said, “that girl done stole my song.” Aretha made “Respect” completely her own. With only a minor change to the lyrics, it became a song of strength and independence at a time when women were beginning to demand greater equal rights and autonomy. Her voice is like a clarion bell demanding “Respect” in a way that no one in their right mind would refuse. Aretha had a monster hit, and her career began in earnest.
REMAKE DISCOVERY by Larry Glickman (1983)
I don’t know when I first I heard the song “Respect,” but my guess is it was during my teenage years when I was exploring great music from the 1960’s and 1950’s with passion and hunger. I couldn’t get enough. I was not aware that Aretha’s “Respect” was a cover. I didn’t care. It was like a wake up call. It was a punch in the gut. It was passionate, electric and exciting. I put it on mix tapes. I played it on my turntable in my room. At its’ very best, my Aretha imitation was a poor, shameful performance, but I loved singing along.
REMAKE RE-TREAD by Larry Glickman (1995)
As I transitioned into my adult years, I heard “Respect” by Aretha Franklin more and more. I heard it in movies and in TV shows. I heard it on the radio in my car, and through the Muzak system in the elevator. This song that had at once been so exciting and alive had now become boring. It was accepted. I was moving past it. I changed the station when it came on. I fast forwarded through the song on my mix tapes.
ORIGINAL DISCOVERY by Larry Glickman (1998)
And then, I found Otis. Of course I had heard “Dock of the Bay,” but in the late 1990’s Otis’ estate released an amazing, exhaustive box set covering his entire career, and if Aretha’s version was a punch in the gut, Otis’ version was a punch in the eye. The horns attacked, the gravely vocal scratched. In so many ways, Otis’ version was an all out assault, while Aretha’s version an exclamation point at the end of a sentence.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING by Larry Glickman (2018)
There should only ever be two versions of “Respect.” Ever. Otis Redding’s original version is great, but he was right…Aretha stole the song from him. You’ve heard it thousands of times, but listen to it again. It is brilliant. Turn the volume WAY up. Ignore all other covers. Tune out the Muzak, and forget any syrupy scene from a Rom-Com it may have been sadly been included in. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin is so many things. A statement of rights. A master class of how to sing. The moment in time when an artist was created.
Sock it to me. Sock it to me, sock it to me. Sock it to me.
Written by Otis Redding
Performed by Aretha Franklin