Young, Gifted and Black, Aretha Franklin
Atlantic, January 24, 1972
Track Listing: 1. Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby), 2. Day Dreaming, 3. Rock Steady, 4. Young, Gifted and Black, 5. All the King’s Horses, 6. A Brand New Me, 7. April Fools, 8. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, 9. First Snow in Kokomo, 10. The Long and Winding Road, 11. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time), 12. Border Song (Holy Moses)
All I’m askin’ is for is a little . . . .
People v. the ’70s, case summary: A group of naysayers lament
a lost decade in music. The defense counters, asking for a little
Taken from the defense’s opening statement: The entire crux of this case stems from transference. We believe that a disdain for disco music on behalf of the plaintiffs has overshadowed their ability to see clearly and so they dismiss everything else this wonderful decade has to offer.
“Day dreaming and I’m thinking of you
Day dreaming and I’m thinking of you”
-from “Day Dreaming”
Before we call our first witness, Lady Soul, to the stand, may we first go on record as saying we love disco lest our previous statement be misconstrued. Exhibit A, roll tape. Along parquet-paneled dance floors, groovy bell-bottomed pant legs stretch so long and wide that they can only have been tailored with tripping in mind. Overhead, adorning circling silver mirror balls, hundreds of small square reflecting eyes wink in a cascade of sparkling approval as they watch the far-out and happy goings-on below. This night is in full swing. The dancers are more than just digging this scene, they are all in, partying hard, celebrating good times, come on! To anyone not down with said dancing, we can only ask how you cannot help but move your hips with a feeling from side to side.
Yes, I’m day dreaming about the ’70s alright, seemingly on a bit of a tangent, but we promise this disco diversion is very much relevant to the proceedings at hand. We claim that disco should not be discarded as an example of what was wrong with the decade’s music scene but instead used as example of what was very right. In our eyes, music should never be about exclusivity. It is the same reason I need to remind the courtroom that this alleged lost decade is the very same in which punk rock came, spit, and conquered. Call me an antichrist if you must because, quite frankly, regarding punk music, I wanna be anarchy.
And, my my, hey hey, what a mind-boggling run of Neil Young solo albums, a veritable nine-peat streak: After the Gold Rush, Harvest, On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night, Zuma, Long May You Run, American Stars ’n Bars, Comes a Time, and Rust Never Sleeps.
The Beatles went solo and didn’t miss a mercy beat. Freshly-reformulated Fleetwood Mac found life similarly pleasing in the reboot of the brave new world. There was the primal force of Led Zeppelin and the sonic psychedelia of Pink Floyd. It was even a time when you could go shirtless for A Night at the Opera. Yes, in the seventies, it was suddenly okay—better than okay—to be a queen. And speaking of, the decade has to be considered the pinnacle of Elton John’s illustrious career.
It was also the decade in which Gram Parsons was still alive. Before he wasn’t. And there was Bob Dylan doing what he always does. Our opening statement could ramble on forever and we haven’t even gotten to the Queen of Soul, the one, the only, Miss Aretha Franklin!
“Oh hear me now!”
-from “Oh Me Oh My (I’m a Fool for You Baby)”
Young, gifted, and black, this future diva of divas had it absolutely going on. She was belting out beauties loud and proud, leading by glorious example, announcing her arrival in a soulful crooning that hereby declared a time for change had come at last. For anyone not into the disco scene, there was a lot of other great music making the rounds. Aretha Franklin is certainly a case in point.
“You are young gifted and your black
We must begin to tell our young:
There’s a world waiting for you (you!)
Yours is the quest that’s just begun”
-from “Young, Gifted and Black”
If all we are asking for is a little respect, it’s because this decade of music demands it. With Aretha, it wasn’t just a color or gender barrier she had broken through, it was the way in which she did it in such a genre-busting flourish. Soul music may have been at the core, but baby, baby, there was so much more.
“Rock steady baby!
That’s what I feel now
Let’s call this song exactly what it is”
-from “Rock Steady”
Aretha even had the audacity to take a song by four rather bigger-than-life white lads from Liverpool and offer up her own fresh take. She was as fearless as her voice. And with an instrument like hers, why the hell not?
“Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I
Didn’t I blow your mind this time, didn’t I
-from “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)”
Have no fear, you did, you did, blowing minds and still going strong after all these years.
“Little did we know, where the road would lead
Here we are a million miles away
From the past, travelin’ so fast and
There is no turning back”
-from “April Fools”
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, to be clear, if disco was all there was to this wonderful decade of music, it would certainly suffice in our humble opinion. That there is more to the story (what it is) simply gives us all the more reason to celebrate (what it is what it is) and so for the infusion of dance music into blues and rock and gospel, we say, Hallelujah and can I get an Amen?
As for our soul sister, our queen, may our modest offering of thanks in some way suffice in kind in demonstrating a gratitude that shall remain as eternal as her funked-out gospel rhythms, incomparable style, soulful elegance, and of course, sweeter than sweet voice of voices.