Thursday, November 29, 2007


Like its predecessor, "Spirit in the Dark," 1972's "Young, Gifted and Black" found Aretha moving with soul music's elite into a progressive phase that opened up the emotional content of her work even further. It mixed both sides of Aretha -- the earlier hard-hitting soulsister, and the developing vocalist with a rich talent for more sophisticated material. The album features the anthemic title cut in Aretha's famous version -- plus the sample favorite "Rock Steady."

The track was recorded in Miami’s Criteria Studios in the fall of 1970. Franklin, who wrote the song and provided a scratch vocal and piano part, was present at the morning session along with Bernard Purdie on drums, Cornell Dupree on guitar, Richard Tee on organ, and Chuck Rainey on bass. (Franklin’s final vocal, the backup vocals, and the horn parts would all be added later.) Producer Arif Mardin eventually wrote out charts, but none were really needed for the simple two-chord, two-section ditty about, ahem, jumping into your car and “taking a ride.”

After a few quick run-throughs, engineer Gene Paul (who was responsible for Rainey’s massive bass presence in the mix), said, “Let’s put one down so we can hear what it sounds like.” Rainey, Purdie, Dupree, and Tee had cut many a side together, and in a testament to their creative powers, the foursome issued a slamming first take. The diligent production team of Mardin, Jerry Wexler, and Tom Dowd had the musicians rework and re-record the song for the next three or four hours before it was finally realized that the first pass was perfection.

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