The Second Disc

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Almighty Fire: Five Lost Aretha Franklin Albums Reissued, Expanded For First Time On CD

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The old Second Disc Crystal Ball is back in action!  We’ve looked back to March 30, 2011, when our Reissue Theory column was dedicated to a hypothetical box set containing Aretha Franklin’s five “lost” Atlantic albums, all released between 1974 and 1979.  Now, over a year later, we don’t have to imagine any longer, for a reissue of all five albums is upon us!  Roger Friedman has broken the news at Showbiz 411 and Forbes.com that Franklin’s label, Aretha’s Records, has entered into a deal with Universal Music Group for the expansion and reissue of With Everything I Feel in Me (1974), You (1975), Sweet Passion (1977), Almighty Fire (1978) and La Diva (1979).  The Queen of Soul’s deal with Universal will not impact her recently-announced contract with Sony’s Clive Davis (a mastermind of her successful 1980s “comeback”) for new material, but Friedman states that the Universal agreement might encompass further vault material and even new artist signings in the future.

These five albums have never before appeared on CD, despite a true “Who’s Who” of songwriters and producers befitting a Queen, among them Lamont Dozier, Jerry Wexler, Curtis Mayfield, Barry Mann, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Van McCoy, Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager. Though none of these LPs were pop smashes, all were successful on the R&B charts (the first three going Top Ten) and most importantly, all have something to offer not only for fans of Aretha but all pop and soul enthusiasts.  Though a date for the reissues has not been announced yet, bonus tracks have been confirmed.  Hit the jump for more details including the full track listings!

Aretha Franklin began 1974 still atop the music world. Let Me in Your Life, her February 1974 classic, was an R&B chart-topper and hit No. 14 on the pop charts, barely missing gold certification. Franklin’s galvanizing take on Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” became the song’s definitive version. Her deft hand at re-arrangement even made the Motown smash “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and Leon Russell’s perennial “A Song for You” her own. So what happened between Let Me in Your Life and its follow-up later that year, With Everything I Feel in Me?

Jerry Wexler and Aretha herself produced With Everything I Feel in Me, joined by Atlantic stalwarts Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd. The songs were a typically eclectic batch. There was another Stevie Wonder track, “I Love Every Little Thing About You.” Aretha turned, as she frequently had before, to Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The team’s songbook had been kind to her with “I Say a Little Prayer” (regarded by its composer as the best version ever recorded) and “This Girl’s in Love with You,” among others. One song was familiar from hit takes by both Dionne Warwick and the Stylistics, “You’ll Never Get to Heaven,” while the second, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” was a little-known song first recorded by Bacharach himself in 1965 and by Warwick later that year. Aretha brought a solid layer of funk to both songs, much as she did to Barry Mann’s “When You Get Right Down to It.” That was another much-covered song, though Aretha’s take is as nearly as memorable as those by The Delfonics, Ronnie Dyson and even Scott Walker. Perhaps the majority of these songs were too familiar, though Franklin’s craft was evident. In any event, With Everything I Feel in Me stalled on the pop chart and did not produce any hit singles. The R&B audience was more loyal, and the album made it to No. 6.  Two bonus tracks will appear on the new CD, “Til It’s Over” and “Springtime in New York.”

Wexler and Franklin co-produced October 1975′s You, largely eschewing marquee songwriters other than Van McCoy, for whom Aretha had a musical affinity since the Columbia days. Franklin recorded McCoy’s “Walk Softly,” and turned to her sister Carolyn’s songbook for “As Long As You Are There.” The album’s lone single, the self-penned “Mr. D.J.,” made it to No. 53 on the Hot 100, but Mr. D.J. wasn’t paying enough attention to Ms. Franklin. There was a reggae experiment (“You Got All the Aces”) and a solid slice of funk (“Without You”) but it was all to little avail, commercially speaking.  A whopping six bonus tracks will feature on the new CD edition, all recorded in 1975: “Rock Me,” “White Dove,” “Can You,” “You Can’t Make It,” “I Want to Make Love to You” and “TNT Dynamite.”

After disappointing sales for two consecutive albums, writer/producer Curtis Mayfield came to Aretha’s rescue. Mayfield enlisted Franklin to record an entire album of his score to the 1976 film Sparkle, which today can be viewed as a pre-Dreamgirls spin on the story of The Supremes.  The album (which will remain at Atlantic Records and is not part of the Universal deal) earned Franklin her biggest plaudits in years.  It might have been an expected move, then, for Franklin to engage Mayfield to produce her next album, but she instead turned to a legend with whom she hadn’t previously collaborated.

Enter Lamont Dozier. He was responsible for much of Sweet Passion, the April 1977 Atlantic release and Aretha’s first since Sparkle. Oddly, the first single wasn’t a Dozier composition, though. Perhaps as pop “insurance,” Aretha was also teamed with the white-hot Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager team. Hamlisch was already the recipient of Oscars, Tonys and even a Pulitzer Prize. Hamlisch and Sager wrote the catchy “Break It to Me Gently,” which made a brief appearance on the Hot 100 before dropping off. It, as usual, fared better on the R&B chart. “Break It” is a particularly valiant attempt to combine Hamlisch’s gift for melodic ballads with Franklin’s earthier sound. Franklin also brought her commanding vocal presence to “What I Did For Love,” Hamlisch’s anthem from the 1975 musical A Chorus Line, co-written with Ed Kleban. Of the Dozier tracks, “Touch Me Up” is a clear move into disco territory. This style is expanded upon in the title song, written by Franklin, a seven-minutes-plus dance floor opus. But an undisputed, unexpected highlight is her scat-singing pairing of the Kiki Dee hit “I’ve Got the Music in Me” with Clark Terry’s “Mumbles.” Aretha’s jazz chops hadn’t diminished any.  Three bonus tracks will be appended for the CD reissue: “Before the Magic C is Just a Memory” and “Musta Up Some Gusta,” both from 1976, as well as “You Light Up My Life” from 1978.

Mayfield made his belated return to the Franklin fold with April 1978’s Almighty Fire, writing all but one of its tracks and producing the album. Almighty Fire has held up less well than her previous Atlantic albums, despite a strong title song with a white-hot Mayfield funk groove. Other songs flirt with disco (“Keep On Loving You” and “I Needed You Baby”). There’s another real throwback here too, a piano ballad called “I’m Your Speed,” which feels out-of-place on the LP despite being a fine performance both vocally and instrumentally.  Almighty Fire will be the only one of these reissues to include no bonus material.

Only one more album remained for Aretha at Atlantic, and September 1979’s La Diva may be the least well-received album in the great lady’s career.  She was no stranger to the deeply soulful music of Van McCoy, even having recorded his “Sweet Bitter Love” in her pre-Atlantic days at Columbia Records.  (She would return to the song later at Arista.)  McCoy had recently scored a disco success with “The Hustle,” so he was a logical enough choice to helm Aretha’s foray into the dance realm.  But he tragically died the July before the album’s release, having produced all but two tracks. (Skip Scarborough and Aretha each produced one of the remaining songs.) Two of McCoy’s own compositions were featured, “You Brought Me Back to Life” and “The Feeling.” Aretha wrote the two songs that opened Side One and Side Two, “Ladies Only” and “Only Star” (with the lyric “I’m gonna be the only star tonight at the disco!”) Both had slick grooves, but neither gained much traction and no 12-inch mixes were released.  Though La Diva has a certain camp fascination, it also has some genuinely redeeming moments as well. Skip Scarborough’s “Reasons Why” is a confident track with a potent rhythm, while “Half a Love” is a strong ballad. McCoy’s upbeat album closer, “The Feeling,” has energy in abundance but simply isn’t unique. Aretha parted ways from Atlantic, still anxious to explore new musical avenues, which she successfully did under Clive Davis’ aegis at Arista Records.  The upcoming reissue of La Diva will include 1979’s “I Need Your Love” as a bonus track.

Needless to say, fans have been waiting for years for these five LPs to see the light of day on CD.  Watch this space for a release date as soon as one is confirmed by Aretha’s Records and Universal Music Group!  In the meantime, the Queen of Soul’s music can be enjoyed on expanded editions from Big Break Records of Jump to It, Get It Right and Aretha, as well as Funky Town Grooves’ Who’s Zoomin’ Who!

Aretha Franklin, With Everything I Feel in Me (Atlantic SD 18116, 1974 – reissued Aretha’s Records/Universal, 2012)

  1. Without Love  (Carolyn Franklin/Ivy Joe Hunter)
  2. Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (Burt Bacharach/Hal David)
  3. When You Get Right Down to It (Barry Mann)
  4. You’ll Never Get to Heaven (Burt Bacharach/Hal David)
  5. With Everything I Feel in Me (Aretha Franklin)
  6. I Love Every Little Thing About You (Stevie Wonder)
  7. Sing It Again – Say It Again (Carolyn Franklin)
  8. All of These Things (James Cleveland)
  9. You Move Me  (Glen Murdock/Mike Keck)
  10. Til It’s Over (Bonus Track – rec. 1974)
  11. Springtime in New York (Bonus Track – rec. June 1974)

Aretha Franklin, You (Atlantic SD 18151, 1975 – reissued Aretha’s Records/Universal, 2012)

  1. Mr. D.J. (5 For The D.J.) (Aretha Franklin)
  2. It Only Happens (When I Look At You) (Ken Gold/Michael Denne)
  3. I’m Not Strong Enough To Love You Again (Frank Johnson)
  4. Walk Softly  (Van McCoy)
  5. You Make My Life (Bettye Crutcher/Frederick Knight)
  6. Without You (Randy Stewart/Mack Rice)
  7. The Sha-La Bandit (Jerry Ferguson/Wade Davis)
  8. You (Jerry Butler, Marvin Yancy/Randy Stewart)
  9. You Got All The Aces (Ronnie Shannon)
  10. As Long As You Are There (Carolyn Franklin)
  11. Rock Me  (Bonus Track – rec. April 1975)
  12. White Dove  (Bonus Track – rec. October 1975)
  13. Can You (Bonus Track – rec. October 1975)
  14. You Can’t Make It (Bonus Track – rec. October 1975)
  15. I Want to Make Love to You (Bonus Track – rec. October 1975)
  16. TNT Dynamite (Bonus Track – rec. October 1975)

Aretha Franklin, Sweet Passion (Atlantic SD 19102, 1977 – reissued Aretha’s Records/Universal, 2012)

  1. Break It to Me Gently (Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager)
  2. When I Think About You (Aretha Franklin)
  3. What I Did  For Love (Marvin Hamlisch/Ed Kleban)
  4. No One Could  Ever Love You More (Lamont Dozier)
  5. A Tender  Touch (Aretha Franklin)
  6. Touch Me Up  (Lamont Dozier)
  7. Sunshine Will Never Be the Same (Lamont Dozier)
  8. Meadows of Springtime (Aretha Franklin)
  9. Mumbles/I’ve Got the Music in Me (Clark Terry/Aretha Franklin/Bias Boshell)
  10. Sweet Passion (Aretha Franklin)
  11. Before the Magic C is Just a Memory (Bonus Track – rec. 1976)
  12. Musta Up Some Gusta (Bonus Track – rec. December 1976)
  13. You Light Up My Life (Bonus Track – rec. July 1978)

Aretha Franklin, Almighty Fire (Woman of the Future) (Atlantic SD 19161, 1978 – reissued Aretha’s Records/Universal, 2012)

  1. Almighty Fire (Woman of the Future) (Curtis Mayfield)
  2. Lady, Lady (Curtis Mayfield)
  3. More than Just a Joy (Curtis Mayfield)
  4. Keep On Loving You (Curtis Mayfield)
  5. I Needed You Baby (Curtis Mayfield)
  6. Close to You (Curtis Mayfield)
  7. No Matter Who You Love (Curtis Mayfield)
  8. This You Can Believe (Curtis Mayfield)
  9. I’m Your Speed (Aretha Franklin/Glynn Turman)

Aretha Franklin, La Diva (Atlantic SD 19248, 2012 – reissued Aretha’s Records/Universal, 2012)

  1. Ladies Only (Aretha Franklin)
  2. It’s Gonna Get a Bit Better (Lalome Washburn)
  3. What If I Should Ever Need You (Charles H. Kipps)
  4. Honey I Need Your Love (Aretha Franklin)
  5. I Was Made for You (Clarence Franklin)
  6. Only Star (Aretha Franklin)
  7. Reasons Why (Skip Scarborough/Wanda Hutchinson/Wayne Vaughan)
  8. You Brought  Me Back to Life (Van McCoy)
  9. Half a Love (Zulema Cusseaux)
  10. The Feeling (Van McCoy)
  11. I Need Your Love (Bonus Track – rec. June 1979)

The above has been adapted and abridged from our Reissue Theory column entitled Sweet Passion: The Lost Atlantic Years! If you haven’t already, you might just want to check it out for even more info on these classic Franklin albums, including the story of her almost-collaboration with CHIC’s Nile Rodgers!

Written by Joe Marchese

June 6, 2012 at 10:06

14 Responses

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  1. Man, this is awesome. The only way that’s I’ve been able to listen to these albums on my iPod at this point was by digitizing my old vinyl records. It will be great to hear new remastered versions!!

    Joelito

    June 6, 2012 at 14:56

  2. I cannot get over how critics dismiss Almighty Fire. The whole album is excellent, but the closer, Aretha’s own composition “I’m Your Speed” is one of her great recordings. Out of place? Many albums by many artists through the years have closed with a more contemplative piece with a simpler arrangement

    It is too bad that both albums produced by Curtis are not together in this box. But this is great news overall.

    Out of place

    Kevin

    June 7, 2012 at 08:42

    • You are so right dude, “Almighty Fire” IS really excellent! I’m ALSO surprised that it was not received well critically. In fact, I would go so far to say that its one of her better albums.

      joelito

      June 7, 2012 at 08:50

  3. Edit: for above…I wasn’t refering to you Joe as being dismissive of Almighty Fire, but all the other critics for over 30 years…

    This column, Joe, is what is so special about “The Second Disc” ….you really provide an incredible service to music listeners and collectors. Thank You.

    Kevin

    June 7, 2012 at 08:45

  4. I don’t understand why they didn’t put “You light up my life” as a bonus track for “Almighty fire” it was recorded in 1978. Instead they used it for a 1976 album?

    James

    June 7, 2012 at 09:44

    • As long as it is in the box, it’s OK. Sometimes it is better to retain the original album songlist and not tack on an extra song right after a song such as “I’m Your Speed” which is intended to be a closer that leaves you mesmerized.

      Kevin

      June 8, 2012 at 10:42

  5. I thought the “Almighty Fire” was a reference to the infamous 1978 fire of an Atlantic Records vault in Long Branch, NJ that resulted in devastating losses including material by Aretha, Dusty Springfield, and other legendary artists.

    Giuseppe

    June 7, 2012 at 14:26

  6. No. “Almighty Fire” is that within your heart, spirit and soul.

    Kevin

    January 31, 2013 at 08:27

  7. Here it is March of 2013 and still no albums! When are these coming out? I cannot wait any longer. I want CD-quality sound and I want to hear those bonus tracks!!

    macguffin54

    March 30, 2013 at 20:40

  8. When is this release scheduled please ?

    Soulie

    June 12, 2013 at 13:24

    • Unfortunately, no release date has yet been confirmed, and these titles appear to be on the backburner. Stay tuned for more news as it becomes available.

      Joe Marchese

      June 13, 2013 at 01:05

      • I just ordered these CD’s as European imports. Yet they don’t have any bonus tracks from the sessions. I do already have the lost Atlantic Box set. I wonder why they are on the back burner for domestic release with bonus tracks??

        Timothy Kiah

        June 20, 2013 at 18:29

      • Where did you supposedly get these as imports? I have searched the internet over and over again and can’t find them.

        Macguffin54

        June 20, 2013 at 18:51

  9. Any update on this? I would be crazy for this! So much better than the Arista stuff that seems to be getting so much attention.

    Steve Sando

    July 7, 2014 at 18:33


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