August 1967, London
More than ever, the soul music that is my passion is reflecting my life-as-lived. If whatever I experience with boyfriend #1 Franklin is mirrored through songs on Aretha Franklin’s first Atlantic album “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” her 2nd LP for the label, “Aretha Arrives” is tracking the challenges of dealing with William, boyfriend #2. It’s as if almost every song Aretha chooses for the album reflect the ups-and-downs from “You Are My Sunshine”and the beautifully tender “Never Let Me Go” to the lonely anguish of “I Wonder,” the ever present doubt expressed in “Prove It” and world-weariness of “Night Life.” I even see an achingly wistful sadness which I perceive in the look in Aretha’s eyes on the LP cover and it’s what I experience in navigating the uncharted waters of idealised love bumping up against the nights when I’m questioning if – to quote a lyric line from sister Carolyn Franklin’s “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around”- ‘love ain’t the thing for me…’.
There’s no guide to follow when I’m truly questioning why I find myself crying “96 Tears” and no one to turn to as a naive 19-year-old in a same-sex relationship. All I have is Aretha’s soul-baring testimony for solace as I deal with William’s evident unfaithfulness and my increasing disappointment in the blues-drenched realness of ‘Going Down Slow’ versus the romantically idyllic ‘Soul Serenade’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream’ (both personal favourites on Aretha’s 1st Atlantic LP released less than six months earlier).
Many decades later after Aretha becomes a real presence in my life, first professionally then personally, she asks during a friendly chat which of her Atlantic LPs is my favourite. When I say “Aretha Arrives,” she seems surprised. I share that every song on the album is the tapestry of a personal relationship I experienced at the time it came out. Aretha knowingly understands…