Aretha Franklin is dubbed ‘Queen of Soul’ and she truly earned that title with some classic hits such as “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, “Chain of Fools”, “Think”, and “I Say a Little Prayer.” However, she is most known for her anthem of equality “Respect.” In this article, we will be taking a closer look at the history and inspiration behind this song.
Aretha Franklin released her rendition of “Respect” in 1967. Yes, the original version of the song was written and released by singer Otis Redding in 1965. Musically, the two versions differ quite a lot and not so much lyrically. Both versions of the songs were essentially about demanding respect from their partners–Otis Redding from his woman, and Aretha from her man. Aretha’s version became a signature for female empowerment and equality.
Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” climbed to #1 on Billboard Hot 100 chart and spent two weeks there. It also reached #10 on the UK Singles Chart. In comparison, Otis’s version only charted at #35 on Billboard Hot 100 chart. Aretha’s version of the song is also placed at #5 on Rolling Stone’s list of ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time‘ list. It is also inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s ‘500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll list.’
“Respect” earned Aretha Franklin her first two Grammy Awards in 1968 for “Best Rhythm & Blues Recording” and “Best Rhythm & Blues Solo Vocal Performance, Female”, and was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2002, the Library of Congress honored Franklin’s version by adding it to the National Recording Registry. It was also included in the list of “Songs of the Century”, by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
History of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”
Aretha Franklin was a mere 24-years-old at the time of releasing her version of “Respect,” and 1965 was not the most ‘equal’ of times with regards to gender discriminations. In 2018, CBS News described Otis Redding’s version of the song as “an upbeat version of the traditional family values of the 1950s and 1960s: Man works all day, man comes home for dinner and demands respect from his wife (with a) masculine appeal from a working man to a housewife that feels a shade misogynistic through today’s lens.”
And Aretha Franklin flipped the original on its head. She changed some of the lyrics to suit the idea she had in mind for the song. “Well, I heard Mr. Redding’s version of it. I just loved it — and I decided that I wanted to record it,” said Aretha in an interview.
The song became a crucial part of the continuous battle for gender equality. The producer of the song Wexler said in a Rolling Stone interview, that Franklin’s song was “global in its influence, with overtones of the civil-rights movement and gender equality. It was an appeal for dignity.”
Although never confirmed by Aretha, another inspiration for her to recreate “Respect” could have been the domestic violence she ensued with her husband and manager Ted White. In the 2014 biography ‘Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin,’ the author writes that “ugly physical fights were not unusual” between Aretha and Ted. The two of them separated in 1968, a year after the release of the song.
Watch “Respect” Animated Video by Aretha Franklin
“Respect” Lyrics Meaning and Song Review
Otis Redding’s version of the song depicts a classic household situation in the ’60s where the man is the breadwinner of the family and the woman is a housewife. So, after a hard day of work, when he comes home, Otis demands respect from his woman.
Aretha’s version narrates the POV of the woman in the same situation but demands respect from the husband when he comes home. In an interview with NPR, Aretha Franklin spoke about the song; “In later times, it was picked up as a battle cry by the civil rights movement. But when I recorded it, it was pretty much a male-female kind of thing. And more in a general sense, from person-to-person — I’m going to give you respect and I’d like to have that respect back or I expect respect to be given back.”
In the first verse, Aretha Franklin is singing of the power she has in the relationship which the man does not see.
When Otis sings “What you want, honey, you got it,” it implies that the man has provided for all her needs by working hard. She has nothing more to be fulfilled. Aretha changes these lyrics to “What you want, baby, I got it,” which implies that she, too, holds some power in this relationship.
In the second verse, Aretha Franklin seemingly replies to the original lyrics by Otis Redding. In Otis’s version, he sings “You can do me wrong, honey, while I’m gone.” These lines have a subtle implication that he is allowing her to cheat on him when he is gone to work. However, Aretha changes these lyrics to “Ain’t gon’ do you wrong ’cause I don’t wanna.” These lyrics say that she could do wrong if she wanted to, but she is not choosing to do so, and it’s not up to him to give her permission.
The third verses of either song are seemingly a back-and-forth banter as well. In Otis’s version, he sings that he will give his hard-earned money to her to manage the household expenses and in return, he only seeks her respect. In Aretha’s version, she says the same–she will give him all her hard-earned money and in return, she only expects his respect. This might be the most relevant part of the song to Aretha’s personal life which has been documented to be one filled with domestic violence with her husband Ted White. Although Ted White was a business manager, including that of Aretha Franklin’s career, Aretha would have undoubtedly been the one to bring in the big bucks in their home.
Watch Aretha Franklin Perform “Respect” Live in 1968
In the fourth verse of the song, Aretha Franklin sings that she is a financially independent woman, which would have been not been something digested well by the 60’s society. So, Aretha was breaking new grounds in the song.
These lyrics are brand new added by Aretha Franklin herself. She emphasizes the word respect and adds in the acronym TCB which stands for ‘take care of business.’
Aretha Franklin talked about the infamous “Sock it to me” in an interview with NPR; “My sister Carolyn and I got together. I was living in a small apartment on the West Side of Detroit. And [with the] piano by the window, watching the cars go by, and we came up with that infamous line, the ‘sock It to me’ line. Some of the girls were saying that to the fellows, like, sock it to me in this way or sock it to me in that way. Nothing sexual, and it’s not sexual. It was non-sexual, just a cliché line…It just kind of perpetuated itself and went on from there.”
And the song’s legacy lives on and so does the memory of Aretha Franklin. The song is still considered an anthem of equality, rights, and female empowerment.