The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #4: Respect by Otis Redding (+) covered by Aretha Franklin. (RS)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #4: Respect by Otis Redding (+) covered by Aretha Franklin.

By this stage of our countdown, nothing should surprise any of us. But, who among us knew that “Respect” was not originally an Aretha Franklin song?! Because it is not. The origin of the song goes back in some very murky waters where the true author of the song isn’t clear. However, what is clear is that the original person to record the song AND to have a chart hit with the song was not Aretha Franklin at all but, instead, was legendary soul crooner, Otis Redding! Redding was already a rising star on the Soul and R&B scene when he became aware of a song called “Respect” that was floating around. At the time, this song was written for a man to sing, which seems like such a bizarre juxtaposition to take due to the fact that Aretha Franklin’s version of “respect” has gone on to be one of the great feminist anthems of all-time. So, make yourself all comfy and cosy and let me tell you the story of Rolling Stone Magazine’s #1 song on their list, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin but, which is really by Otis Redding. Here we go!

In 1965, Otis Redding already had released songs such as “These Arms of Mine”, “Mr. Pitiful” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”…*(which you can read about here). “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” would be released posthumously. So, when a song entitled, “Respect” made it’s way into his hands, he was delighted to record and release it. At the time, “Respect” was sung from the man’s point of view. It was not an openly misogynistic song but, looking back on it, a song sung by a man about the view that he deserved “respect” from “his woman” as soon as he walked through his front door, probably wouldn’t fly today. And, to be clear, by “Respect”, we are talking about a display of sexual submissiveness; a fawning over the greatness of the man who is walking through that doorway. Otis Redding’s version of “Respect” charted into the Top Twenty and was well-received. His version of the song was much funkier that his standard fare. It was more in line with what James Brown was releasing in those days.

Meanwhile, lurking in the musical weeds was an unknown performer named Aretha Franklin. She didn’t release her first album until 1967. It was called, “I Never Loved a Man the Way That I Love You”. No doubt, Lady Soul heard Redding’s version of “Respect” and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know how she viewed it. Franklin was never going to be a submissive woman; patiently waiting for her day to have meaning by virtue of her man arriving home. There would be no hot meal waiting on the table nor a slinky negligee waiting on the bed…..unless she wanted it that way. In Franklin’s mind, the success of any relationship rested on a foundation of mutual respect. At the time, the idea of a woman publicly demanding to be respected by the man in her life was not something that was often said aloud in polite society. So, Aretha Franklin….and her sisters……set about to change that. They took the lyrics to Otis Redding’s version and tweaked them to reflect a woman’s point of view. The song was still about sexuality but, it now came from the viewpoint of a woman who felt that she had every right to demand quality sex from her man and that he should reciprocate in a manner that showed he loved and respected her in reply. It was a bold and decisive introduction by Franklin but one that set the stage for a career unlike any other; especially, any other female artist.

Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” is actually not really that different from Redding’s version except for the fact that it is a female demanding to be respected. There in lay the entire difference. The politics of sexuality often favours men….even today….so, there is a different weight to the lyrics of “Respect” when sung by a man, as opposed to, being sung by a woman. Whereas a male singer sounds, almost condescending, when he sings about wanting his “proper respect“… the hands of a female singer like Franklin, those same words sound virtuous and heroic, almost. Not surprisingly, in the late 1960s, Franklin’s message of female empowerment was enthusiastically received by women all across America who were spearheading a movement called “Female Liberation”. “Respect” became one of their anthems and, by extension, Aretha Franklin became one of the faces of the movement. She was proud and black but, most of all, she was a proud, black woman.

This is not the first time we have encountered a song that was originally kinda creepy when sung by a man and then, completely different when sung by a woman. If you recall, the song, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper *(which you can read here) worked the same way. That song was originally sung by a male DJ and was about a guy trolling through Clubs looking for girls “who wanted to have fun”, if ya know what I mean. In Lauper’s hands, she flipped the entire meaning of the song by singing those words from a female point of view which stated that girls wanted to be free from male sexual harassment so that they could simply go out in public and have fun, just like any male could. Lauper is quoted as saying that Aretha Franklin’s example of changing the tone of Redding’s version of “Respect” simply by singing the same song but, as woman, gave her the courage and the inspiration to do the same with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”.

So completely did Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” dominate that put forward by Otis Redding that I honestly did not know his version even existed prior to doing the research for this post. Redding, himself, upon hearing Aretha Franklin record his song stated, “that girl has gone and taken my song from me. It is her’s now!” It sure is! Aretha Franklin enjoyed one of the greatest careers by any artist, of all-time. She has a boatload of hit songs such as “Chain of Fools“, “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman“, “Do Right Woman-Do Right Man” but, her signature song was always and forever, “Respect”. What a singer! What a soulful voice! What a woman!

So, without further delay, here is the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, with the biggest hit of them all, “Respect”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Aretha Franklin, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Respect” by Otis Redding, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Otis Redding, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

Author: Tom MacInnes

Among the many characters I play: husband, father, son, retired elementary school teacher, writer, Cape Bretoner, lover of hot tea and, above all else, a gentleman. I strive to make a positive difference in the lives of others. In Life, I have chosen to be kind.

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