In the early seventies everyone got to make a live album, so why not Aretha?
Luckily for us, it’s not your usual run through of inferior versions of hits.
If I’m hearing it right, she seems to be playing for a largely white crowd and is not sure they’re going to like what they hear. So she hedges her bets by using most of “side one” (you know what a “side one” is, don’t you?) for covers of popular songs of the day before getting to her own songs.
And, for me now, it works. It might not have then, though. I was a stickler for faithful versions of cover songs. Especially the melodies. And that’s not how Aretha rolls. For her, feelings come first.
And now after hearing “Love the One You’re With”, “Make it With You”, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” and “Eleanor Rigby” thousands of times, I can stand a change. And change them, she does, in the best possible way. I wanted to hate these versions, but now after her “Bridge” I’ll live if I never hear Art Garfunkel’s voice again.
Having a great band - courtesy of King Curtis - helps.
The vocals on this record are amazing. Duh. But coming from a rock and roll fan all too often disappointed by live performances, I can say that she sounds even better here.
And while I typically discount the crowd noises on a live album, here they’re so into it, it adds to the fun.
“Respect” is speeded up just to get the show off on the right foot, “Dr Feelgood” is slowed down to, um, get everyone in the mood, and “Spirit in the Dark” has Ray Charles.
She and Ray spend too much time on “Spirit”. It’s a single record and space is precious. Another couple of songs could have fit. Ah, but what’s a live album without one song dragged out?
And in this way, all live albums suffer from the “you’re not really there” syndrome and one tends to enjoy them slightly less because of it. And since they almost always have songs you already know, you’re less likely to go back to them.
So, as entertaining as this record is, it's not quite essential.
But it's very entertaining, and by the end Aretha herself seems surprised at the reception she gets.