OTR, Take 9: Aretha Franklin - Greatest Hits

Some announcements before jumping into today's record. First, at the end of this week's OTR, there's a new feature that I plan to do once a month or so, provided you all don't hate it. I'm calling it Cover Art and will explain further below. Please let me know if it's something you'd like to continue seeing. If the answer is no, that's cool.

Second, yesterday I announced a big, scary (for me) project. I'm writing a novel. And now I'm writing it, perhaps inadvisably, in public. A group of very brilliant people from all over the world have already signed up to be part of the journey; if you would like to be part of this experiment (it is paywalled – currently a lifetime $50 to dissuade trolls), you can read more about it here and read the first chapter here.

Okay, let's talk about today's record!

The Greatest does her Greatest.

Picture the scene: an eighth grade talent show. A much nicer than average middle school theatre in a brand new building, still with that new-building antiseptic smell. The sixth graders were being their untamed sixth-grade selves – hooting and hollering, trying the patience of the poor school counselors and teachers who just want this assembly to be a bit of a break. Seventh grade is the perfect hellish age, and the boys and girls are antagonizing each other in the way only 13-year-olds can. Bra straps were pulled and death glares (the least of the punishments administered by the girls) administered. The room was awash with cacophonous teen and pre-teen energy.

The first act was announced, the curtains opened, and nobody paid attention as a skinny little girl strutted onto stage. Teachers and counselors try to shush the students, who are lost in their own dramas. The girl takes the microphone and cocks her head, waiting for the track to kick in. She has a knowing smirk on her face.

She knows what's coming.

The backing track of "Respect" by Aretha Franklin begins playing over the soundsystem and the teachers instinctively brace themselves for the abomination that inevitably follows when someone tries to cover Aretha.

WHAT you want!

The whole theatre fell silent mid-word, mid prank, mid eye-roll. It is a moment I will never forget. This girl kept going, note-for-note just nailing "Respect" – maybe not quite Aretha, but a reasonable facsimile. It was astonishing.

This is where the normal story would veer into a friend with remarkable talent shined brightly for this one moment and then went on to a career in sales or marketing.

That's not this story. You see, this is the skinny little girl I went to school with:

I wasn't able to find her covering "Respect" but that James Brown cover is something, as is this cover of Etta James's "At Last."

The next four acts scheduled to follow Christina flat refused to go on stage. Why the Powers that Be decided to let her go first to this day is beyond my ken.

Anyway, did you know that Aretha's version of "Respect" is also a cover?

Have you ever given thought about how f'ing good you have to steal a song from Otis Redding? One of the best ever, and even he admits that "Respect" is "a song that a girl took away from me."

Aretha might have the most astonishing voice I've ever heard. Her range is just absurd. She can pull off gospel to rock to opera. (Yeah: Pavorotti had larengitis just before the Grammy's so, same day, with no notice, Aretha just casually steps in and blows "Nessun Dorma" out of the water.)

This morning is a rainy mess in Pittsburgh and my walk with the dogs this morning was pretty wet. But I'm in a good mood and wanted to carry that feeling bouyantly into the weekend. Listening to Aretha gives me a spiritual feeling – beautiful like the Latin Mass I used to go to with my grandmother, except waaaaay more fun and human.

So, lots of talk about cover songs today. I'm pretty fascinated by cover songs – not replicating them, which is what most artists do, playing the songs note for note, generally not as well as the musicians who played the original. A great cover changes the song, adapts it, changes it while still maintaining some core essence.

Occasionally, I'm going to induldge in this new feature: Cover Art.

Basically, the ground rules are this: I take no more than an hour to put together a short sketch of a cover of a famous song. One take on each track (meaning, if you hear a guitar track, I did it in one take) so I don't overthink it or aim for "perfect." Then I'll post the cover here and invite guesses as to what song I'm covering. Sometimes it will have a connection to the album of the week, but often it won't – as I'll probably be recording these on Friday evening to wind out of my work week.

So, without further ado, here's the first of these covers. Sloppy, messy, and yet I kinda like it. Leave your guesses for what song I'm covering in the comments. Only one hint, as this is a pretty loose cover: it's from the same era as Aretha, Otis, James Brown, etc.

Any guesses?

'Til next week!

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