Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., July 29, 2011
Aretha FranklinTake a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia (Columbia)
"I ain't had no lovin'/Since you know when/He's a lonesome old rooster/And I'm a lonesome hen." So crows 18-year-old Aretha Franklin on the first song of her 1961 Columbia Records debut. "Won't Be Long," wanton exuberance in the (broken) mold of Ray Charles' "I Got a Woman," thus represents perhaps the apex of March's 11-CD Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia. On a 15-minute bonus DVD, five songs recorded live on Johnny Carson precursor The Steve Allen Show, Franklin looses a distracted reading of the song, but on wax, she breaks a sweat – yours. Nine LPs later (miniature record reproductions in a minibox, plus bonus tracks and mono mixes), the second of two compilations picks up that initial scent on the final seven tracks Franklin cut for the label with staff producer Bob Johnston. Everything the singer/pianist would become at Atlantic Records beginning directly thereafter with 1967's I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You and debut No. 1 "Respect" suddenly comes into stained-glass focus where it rarely had on Columbia. Carnegie-blooded talent scout John Hammond, who lured Franklin out of her father's church in Detroit, puts it best on an outtake from "Won't Be Long" sponsor Aretha (With the Ray Bryant Combo): "That was wonderful," he gushes through the studio glass after Franklin lays into a tune by another of Hammond's "discoveries," Billie Holiday's "Who Needs You?." Innumerable parallels occur throughout Take a Look, including "Blue Holiday" spinning Christmas in July on The Electrifying Aretha Franklin (1962), and a pre-Otis Redding "Try a Little Tenderness" on The Tender, the Moving, the Swinging. Even as Columbia quickly loses sight of the trees, forest, and New York City skyline, Franklin's innate vocal grandeur still bests all but the periodic table of elements. The desperate Runnin' Out of Fools (1964) rides the darkest horse here all the way to the bank with limpid covers à la Burt Bacharach and Hal David's pooling "Walk on By." Wrote Hammond in his autobiography: "When her five-year contract with Columbia ended, I was not unhappy to see her go to Atlantic. I knew Jerry Wexler, who would produce her records there, and was sure he would return her to the gospel-rooted material she should be recording."