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Aretha Franklin - Aretha's Gold   

07-11-2019 | By Claude Lemaire | Issue 104

Aretha Franklin Aretha's Gold   

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab reissue MFSL 2-479 (Sept. 2017). Originally released on Atlantic – SD-8227 (Aug. 1969). Category: soul, southern soul, R&B, blues, black gospel and spiritual roots, churchy. Format: Vinyl (2x180 gram LPs at 45 rpm).


  • Global Appreciation: 9.6
  • Music: A+ (9.5)
  • Recording: 9.3
  • Remastering + Lacquer Cutting: 9.7
  • Pressing: 10
  • Packaging: above average


  • Aretha Franklin - vocals, piano.
  • Spooner Oldham - keyboards, piano. 
  • Jimmy Johnson, Chips Moman, Bobby Womack, Joe South - guitar.     
  • Tommy Cogbill, Jerry Jemmoth - bass guitar. 
  • Gene Chrisman, Roger Hawkins - drums.
  • Melvin Lastie, Bernie Glow, Joe Newman, Wayne Jackson - trumpet. 
  • Charles Chalmers, King Curtis, Andrew Love, Seldon Powell - tenor saxophone. 
  • Willie Bridges, Floyd Newman, Haywood Henry - baritone saxophone.
  • Tony Studd - trombone.
  • Carolyn and Erma Franklin, Cissy Houston - background vocals.

Additional credits

  • Arranged by Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd.
  • Produced by Jerry Wexler.
  • Recorded at FAME recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Atlantic studios in NYC.
  • Engineered by Rick Hall, Tom Dowd.
  • Originally mastered at Plaza Sound Studios.
  • Remastered and cut by Krieg Wunderlich, assisted by Rob LoVerde at Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab in Sebastopol CA.
  • Plated and Pressed by RTI, CA, USA.
  • Album Design by Haig Adishian.
  • Cover photo by James J. Kriegsmann.
  • Back liner photos by Stephen Paley.


First they baptized Benny, the "King of Swing," then entered Elvis, the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," followed by B.B., the "King of the Blues," soon came Sam Cooke, the "King of Soul," and spotlight on James Brown, y'all, He's the King of them all, y'all. Naturally the King enthroned a Queen.

It took a while, but nearly five decades later "The Queen of Soul" finally got the sonic R.E.S.P.E.C.T. she long deserved, brought to you by the letters MFSL, KW, RML, and RTI. To be sure, never was there any doubt regarding Aretha's pivotal place in the 1960s soul music, civil rights, and rising feminist movement. By contrast, the sound situation seemingly succumbed to the old "Rodney Dangerfield" syndrome—that is until MoFi gave it the full royal treatment not long before her death in August 2018.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1942, music permanently played a major part of her younger years. Her father Clarence L. Franklin being a celebrated Baptist minister, preacher, gospel singer, and civil rights activist while her mother Barbara, played piano and sang, led to Aretha learning and practicing the piano by ear early on. The family attracted gospel and soul singers alike, as this would be put to good purpose further down the road.

After spending six years signed to Columbia which failed miserably to capture and channel her gospel roots into a more modern soulful style, she switched to Atlantic Records, stopping briefly in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, before heading for New York to record her seminal version of Otis Redding's "Respect" [Volt VOLT 412]–in fact, the tune is so ingrained into our aural psyche that many forget Aretha's version is not the original.

His has the kick, snare and brass upfront driving a four on the floor propulsive metronomic beat a la Motown mold–though much faster, Stevie's 1965 hit single "Uptight (Everything's Alright)"[Tamla S-268] comes readily to mind—while Aretha and the girls take it more laid-back, built on a mid-tempo R&B beat with the bass drum kicking the 1 and 3 alternating with the snare landing on the 2 and 4. Both are highly enjoyable but it's fascinating how the contrast in basic rhythmic structure totally alters the perceived feel or mood of the song. Instantly Franklin's fanbase exploded exponentially, confirming her christened crown status worldwide.

Arranged by Turkish-born Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd, and produced by Jerry Wexler–famous for formulating the R&B phrase replacing "Race Records" Aretha's Gold [Atlantic SD-8227] originally came out in August 1969, and comprised all of her hit singles up to that point, placed in chronological order, including just to name a few: "Respect," "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," "Chain of Fools," "Think" and her incredible interpretation of Burt Bacharach-Hal David's composition "I Say a Little Prayer" [Scepter Records SPS 563]–originally sung by Dionne Warwick nearly a year prior to hers.

Though the hired session musicians that day had never heard of her before, once she hit the ivory on the Steinway, everybody bowed to the Queen's presence. With the exception of Rick Hall partly handling the first two tracks at his FAME recording studio at 603 East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama—cut short because of a dispute between Aretha's then-husband Ted White and a trumpet player from the FAME house band (aka the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section)—the remaining twelve to thirteen tracks were engineered by Dowd at Atlantic studios in NYC. Accordingly, they relocated and combined part of the Musle Shoals players with the Memphis players.

I do not own an original pressing of Gold to compare with but based on three of the initial albums—all first press Canadian copies–containing these golden hits, it is no secret that the sonics were far from impressive, lacking both low end and high end frequencies, and any sense of finesse; in a nutshell quite "mid-band" and bland. Granted an original US "CTH" (Columbia Terre Haute) pressing may somewhat differ or sound better. What is now clear with this MoFi release is that the original stereo recordings were damn near fantastic.

Early on, the multi-talented Dowd, responsible for recording Ray Charles' 1959 R&B soul epic "What'd I Say" [Atlantic 8029], got Wexler and Atlantic to purchase one of the very first 8-track machines on 1-inch tape—Ampex model 5258, a full decade before the Beatles and Abbey Road got into 8-track decks; Pepper still being a 4-track concoction—and this remained the standard format for this time period up until about 1969-71 when the industry as a whole pretty much doubled to 16-tracks on 2-inch. With the 5258 model now opening up the possibility of overdubbing 8 individual layers at different time intervals similar to what Les Paul was doing with his "sound on sound" recordings, Atlantic and Dowd were still experimenting in these very early stages of the game.

By the time they recorded Respect they had got it well nailed down; even so they moslty mixed it live on the spot like a good soundman operates—drums, bass, and vocals equally peaking around 0dB with the remaining tracks integrated lower in level. Typically 3 mics were utilized for the drumset alone–for kick, snare, and overhead respectively—probably pre-submixed feeding one of the 8 mixing channels—the precursor of the mix bus system found much later—a second served for the DI unit for the bass; a third for electric guitar; a fourth for sax solos; a fifth for the horn section; a sixth for the piano; a seventh for Aretha's vocals; and a final one for the background singers. Although stemming from different dates, the compilation album is very uniform in sound. The latter is bold, solid, chunky, hard-panned with the entire drumset dynamically punching in one channel—typically on the right—accompanied by the brass convincingly crisp, seeming to suddenly enter and disappear on a whims notice. Because of this sharp panning, if one has a balance control, it is instructively interesting to listen to only one channel at a time to fully appreciate the perfect uncluttered vocal and instrumental deliveries.

Ditto for the wonderful background vocals consisting of sisters Carolyn and Erma Franklin, and Cissy Houston, alternating or sharing channels with the piano, bass, and guitar in a "call and response" exchange with Aretha positioned dead center. This particular panning presentation reminds me a bit of Van Gelder's signature stereo Blue Note issues, and even more so with Roy DuNann's Stereo Contemporary recording technique—i.e. very dry and intimately close, providing exceptional instrument clarity, density, and tonality, but not an ounce of agressivity nor analytically emaciated. Because of the rare convergence of such superb talent—be that with the singers, session musicians, studio personnel, and equipment related to that era; as well as MoFi's magnificent dedication to the task at hand—on a good system, one can practically smell the southern fields of cotton plantations or wood church pews permeating the atmosphere of the Atlantic studio travelling through time, and landing in our lap. Keep in mind that in those pre-digital years, singers and musicians had to hit the notes naturally, there was no "Auto-Tune" correcting pitch in real time, nor was there any need for given the high musical caliber. They all played close together live in the studio after practicing a few runs trying out alternate hooks and licks, before settling on the best take, out of perhaps three or four.

As customary with MoFi, their usual black label replaces the original 1969 Atlantic. Engineers Krieg Wunderlich and Rob LoVerde really got it right remastering and cutting at 45 rpm the original master tape, with perfect tonal balance, dynamics, and zero-fatigue musical tone. The dead wax varies from approximately a half-inch to an inch with "KW@MoFi" inscribed. Forced to nitpick, I would have welcomed a hair more bass punch in "Respect" which while never sounding better than now, seemed to me slightly less grounded or full than all the other tracks on the album—which all blew me over in sheer physicality—and Aretha's vocal level that appeared at least on my rig to be a sliver, say a fraction of a dB perhaps, less loud than the background singers; the latter being spot on in the mix. RTI's plating and pressings were all perfecly centered, shiny black, extremely silent, and noise-free.

Lastly MoFi tastefully embellished the cover art by printing nine B&W photos juxtaposed in the centerfold of the thick cardboard gatefold jacket.

Aretha would go on having a few good singles such as "Spanish Harlem" and "Rock Steady" both in 1971, but as with many R&B and soul artists, the early 1970s were rough years, featuring funk firing on all cylinders, and by the mid-1970s, people were rather hustling to the disco beat instead of celebrating sacred soul. The artists-driven decade was giving way to a producer-driven decade; i.e. "The Queen of Soul"'s royal reign really shined from 1967 to 1972.

For more from Claude Lemaire go to his blog...