Aretha Franklin: Five must-own albums

Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin performs at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.
(Leon Morris / Getty Images)
Pop Music Critic

As prolific as she was influential, Aretha Franklin released dozens of albums in a career that lasted longer than half a century.

Here are five of her most important:

“Laughing on the Outside,” 1963

With a seemingly arbitrary mix of pop, jazz and R&B tunes, Franklin’s early-’60s output on Columbia Records left audiences unsure about what kind of singer they were hearing. But nobody could doubt that a singer was what she was. Seek out this gem to behold the purity of her tone in “Skylark” and to marvel at the way she dismantles, then cleverly reassembles, the melody of “Make Someone Happy.”


Remembering Aretha Franklin: Complete coverage »

“I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” 1967

Franklin’s artistic breakthrough — and a landmark in American music as a whole. Recorded in part at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., this was the album that introduced the Queen of Soul in all her glorious complexity: a voice of passion and reason, heart and mind, impatience and understanding. “What you want,” she assured us, “baby, I got it.”

“Amazing Grace,” 1972


Even when she was singing about earthly love, Franklin maintained a strong connection to the church music with which she grew up. Still, few were prepared for the righteous fire of this live album recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Listen to “How I Got Over” to hear a pop star still invested in looking beyond herself.

“Who’s Zoomin’ Who?,” 1985

The ’80s were rough going for many singers from Franklin’s generation — especially those determined to stay on the charts. But Franklin sounds reenergized, not desperate, amid the glossy synths and mechanized drums of this big commercial hit. “How’d you get your pants so tight?” she asks some dreamboat in the ebullient “Freeway of Love,” which is reason enough to ride with her.

“Sings the Great Diva Classics,” 2014

Franklin was famously competitive with other singers, and that drive hardly diminished as she got older. Here she stakes a claim on material made famous by Barbra Streisand (“People”), Gladys Knight (“Midnight Train to Georgia”), Alicia Keys (“No One”) and Adele, whose “Rolling in the Deep” she belts so hard you fear the thing might fall apart.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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