Saturday, May 27, 2017

Aretha Franklin - Young, Gifted and Black (1972)

“Young, Gifted and Black” by Aretha Franklin (1972)

Release Date: January 24, 1972
Produced by Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin, Jerry Wexler
Genre: R&B, Soul, Southern Soul
Label: Atlantic
Chart Positions: #11 (US), #53 (Australia)
Certifications: Gold (US)

Singles: “Border Song (Wholly Moses)” #37 (US), #35 (Canada), “Rock Steady” #9 (US), #4 (Canada), #44 (Germany), “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)”(b-side) #73 (US, Canada), “Day Dreaming” #5 (US), #9 (Canada), “All The King’s Horses” #26 (US), #70 (Canada), “April Fools” (b-side)

Young, Gifted and Black is the twentieth studio album by American singer Aretha Franklin, Released on January 24, 1972 by Atlantic Records. The album is Top 10 Gold-certified and won the 1972 Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance of the year. It takes its title from the 1958 Nina Simone song "To Be Young, Gifted and Black."

Aretha Franklin released eleven studio album during the 1970s, “Young, Gifted and Black” was her most successful of the decade as well as producing the most hit singles. In the whole of Aretha’s recorded output the album remains one of her finest efforts. It was cutting edge for the day with it’s blending of Gospel, jazz, funk and R&B creating a sound and style that rang true to the heart of Black-Oriented Radio of the 70s. But the album struck more than just the BOR listeners. It hit with the hippie movement of the time as well as with the college age generation. This was an album that spoke to many parts of the American culture. It’s not even so much because the songs are about protest or anguish because it is an album full of love songs, but it was the title of the album that struck a chord in many. Many people of the counter-culture were embracing the thought that being gifted and exceptional belongs to all factions of the US population. The title track says it all with its opening lyrics “To be young, gifted and black. Oh, what a lovely and precious thing.” Nina Simone (who wrote the song) followed that line with her cry to the world, “Open your heart is all I need.” This song was a cry for acceptance and love, pure and simple.

“Young, Gifted and Black” is an album full of highlights. Each song builds upon the previous. Quite honestly an album that merits play from beginning to end. Recorded over a seven-month period in 1970 and 1971, "Young Gifted And Black" captures Aretha Franklin at the peak of her artistic and commercial powers. Aretha Franklin was in her prime here, not only in terms of voice but also in terms of confidence -- you can just feel her exuding her status as the best of the best. The album represented a transitional period for Aretha, she was moving from her 60s R&B style to a more gentle soul sound, one could call her “smooth grooves” period. Earlier diehard fans may not have been keen to the idea initially but soon grew to love the new outlook from Aretha.

The album was like a who’s who of popular R&B, soul, jazz and pop music of the time including such luminaries as Billy Preston, Donny Hathway, Dr. John, Hubert Laws and Eric Gale. Aretha’s sisters Carolyn Frnaklin and Erma Franklin performed backing vocals for the album.

The first single, which was released a full year and two months before the album was an inspirational cover of Elton John’s “Border Song (Wholly Moses).” Franklin took the song to #37 in the US and #35 in Canada.

The album’s second single “Rock Steady” was originally released in February 1971 on the Criteria record label. It was later re-released in October 1971 on Atlantic Records and became a top ten ht reaching US #9 (as well as #2 on the R&B charts). Aretha Franklin wrote the uptempo funk song which was made all the more poignant with Donny Hathaway's swinging organ. The b-side “Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)” charted due to heavy airplay on R&B radio stations and reached #73 on the pop charts and #9 on the R&B charts.

The third single is one that many consider to be the album’s highlight, “Day Dreaming,” another Aretha Franklin original composition reached #5 on the US pop chart as well as #1 on the R&B chart. The song achieved a rare feat for Franklin in that it was also a hit on the Easy Listening chart reaching #11. The song sold more than a million copies and was certified Gold by the RIAA (“Rock steady” was also a gold certified hit). The legendary Natalie Cole recorded “Day Dreaming” and was her last single release before her untimely passing. Corinne Bailey Rae also recorded the song which showed up on her debut album from 2006 as a bonus track.

"Day Dreaming"

The fourth and last single from the album is “All The King’s Horses” another Franklin original composition. This one reached #26 on the pop charts and #7 on the R&B charts. The b-side “April Fools” (A Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune) received a small amount of airplay.

In total five songs from “Young, Gifted and Black” charted on the US singles chart.

Nina Simone and poet Weldon Irvine, who contributed the lyrics, wrote the title track “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”. Simone told Irvine she wanted lyrics that "will make black children all over the world feel good about themselves forever." Franklin never released the song as a single but it did receive it’s fair share of airplay in the early 70s and has become one of Aretha's best known recordings. Aretha started the song out slow with a deliberate pace of a traditional spiritual, and rises to triumphant highs punctuated with dramatic stops and starts. The song is accented in a crescendo of church choir celebration. Aretha knew this song had a meaning deeper than the others on the album. Nina Simone wrote the song based on a stage play named "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," which was written in tribute to Lorraine Hansberry's writing and poetry. Hansberry is best known for her 1957 play "A Raisin in the Sun," the story of a black family living under racial segregation in Chicago that tries to better themselves after an insurance payout following the death of the father.

Franklin’s soulful cover of the Beatles’ “The reinvented Long and Winding Road” features Beatles sideman Billy Preston on the organ. Aretha put a bit of a funk twist to her recording of the Delfonics’ “(Didn’t I) Blow You Mind.”

Aretha Franklin (1972)


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