Aretha Franklin's "Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings" is an example of the evolution of CD "greatest hits" packages.
Back in the mid-'80s when the commercial potential of CDs was still being tested, record companies just issued CD versions of the old vinyl or cassette greatest-hits collections. Hence, Atlantic's skimpy "Gold" and "Best Of" Franklin packages.
As the market for CDs slowly expanded, Atlantic followed in 1986 with a more ambitious, two-disc Franklin package titled "30 Greatest Hits."
Now that there's a large appetite for ambitious three- and-four disc packages, Atlantic has finally delivered the definitive Franklin collection.
"Queen of Soul" is a four-disc set containing more than seven dozen selections and an ambitious 80-page booklet featuring essays, testimonials and track-by-track information.
One of the earlier, less expensive, hit-conscious collections may be enough for the casual Franklin fan, but the new set is highly recommended for anyone who wants a comprehensive look at the woman who is arguably the finest female soul singer of the modern pop era--and rivaled only by Ray Charles for the title of finest soul singer regardless of gender.
Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, even questions the "soul" qualification. He calls Franklin "maybe the greatest singer of our time."
Noting Franklin's background in gospel and blues, Ertegun declares in the booklet, "She is blessed with an extraordinary combination of remarkable urban sophistication and deep blues feeling that comes from the Delta."
Franklin recorded several albums for Columbia Records before being signed by Atlantic in the late '60s and she has recorded several more with Arista since leaving the company in the late '70s, but her greatness is best documented in the Atlantic years.
"Queen of Soul" begins with both sides of her exquisite 1967 debut single for Atlantic: "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)" and "Do Right Woman--Do Right Man." And those tracks are just the beginning.
The new set contains 31 other Top 40 singles, including "Respect," "A Natural Woman," "Chain of Fools" and "Spanish Harlem." But the rewards aren't limited to the hits. Few chapters in American pop music are as rich as the one chronicled in "Queen of Soul."