Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Shhh. I'm going to tell you a secret. Don't tell all your friends that I told you because they might hate you. And me. Okay?
Aretha Franklin is a big bag of piss. Her throat is a urethra and her mouth is a piss slit, gushing out loads of effluent and spraying anyone in the ear who gets too close.
That's an even less polite way of saying the thing that can be summed up thus: My God. I hate Aretha Franklin. She really is toss.
I think it was John Peel who mistakenly called her Urethra Franklin on Top of The Pops in the 80s. It might have been Mike Reid or Paul Gambuccini or David "Kid" Jensen. But I think it was John Peel and I think it was probably not really a mistake, if I'm honest. John Peel knew a thing or two about music, so I reckon he thought Aretha was a big bag of piss too. And a urethra empties a big bag of piss, doesn't it? Nah - I reckon he meant it.
What? You want me to qualify all that? Okay then.
There are of course exceptions. Aretha's performance of "Don't Play That Song" is stunning. Crystal clear. She hits every note with the most wonderful clarity. She's generous to the song - it's clear she loves it - and she wants it to shine through. "Think" is pretty darn lovely too. I'm sure there are other exceptions, but most of her work provokes a response in me far worse than fingernails down a blackboard - I haven't been able to bring myself to delve deep enough to find anymore hidden gems. So - now we've got that out of the way, let's get down to some serious hating.
Firstly, despite the fact that Aretha has got a fine set of lungs on her, she doesn't sing. She screams. In every performance I have heard (apart from the aforementioned "Don't Play That Song", the title of which seems increasingly ironic) she caterwauls so badly and so randomly that the songs just disappear. Take, for example, "I Say A Little Prayer." This song was written for her by two of the greatest songwriters of the 20th Century - Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It is the perfect marriage of music (soulful, easy, surprising) and lyrics (at times, pure poetry) - as all the best Bacharach and David songs are. Aretha was lucky to get it. So what does she do. She sings the first half of it pleasantly enough and then...then she just starts to SCREAM! And so you've got this beautiful Burt Bacharach piano groove going on with some mad woman having hysterics over the top of it. Aretha does this all the time. Even on "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves" - you have Annie Lennox - her voice is deep, round and genuinely soulful. She's able to improvise around the melody and yet still manage to communicate a sense of what that melody is to the listener. Aretha just makes a horrible, horrible noise. At times it's genuinely like the gearbox crunching on a bus.
Secondly, she is responsible for the song "Respect". This song deserves only one response and that is this. "Bitch, PLEASE!" You want to know what this song is? It's the aural equivalent of Bodyform sanitary towels. It's a Diet Coke break. It's the Weighwatchers PurePoints programme. It's Terry's Chocolate Orange. It's skimmed milk. It's a compilation album called "Songbird". It's Take A Break magazine. It's Karen Millen. It's an article in Cosmo about how shit men are. It's Bridget fucking Jones' twatting Diary. To put it another way - this song represents that horrible media image of women as man hating, dieting, lazy self centred dickheads who don't want much - they just want to feed their shoe habit, be a size 8, eat loads of chocolate and, oh yeah, they just want a little respect too. Aretha never says why she feels she deserves respect - she just says she's about to give someone all of her money and she wants the profits in return. Way to go, sister.
Thirdly she makes some bloody terrible choices. That duet with George Michael was execrable. Who's Zoomin' Who would be considered the lame piece of shit that it really is had it been sung by Paula Abdul or Gloria Estefan (and that is anything but outside the realms of possibility - just listen to it!)
Anyway - I am sure Aretha is a lovely human being. I bet she'd be damn interesting to talk to. But I sense no pain in her screeching - not like in that of Etta James or Tina Turner. I just hear cash registers ringing. And that's always guaranteed to turn me right off.
Don't play that song again.
Next time: Bob Dylan off!!
Posted by Jimmy Catsup at 20:40