Someone told me the other day, “There’s nothing funny about being a woman.” At first, I felt conflicted. But, I think I know where she was coming from. It literally takes balls to be a woman, and it’s hard. We are constantly at war with expectation and the world we live in. We are all incredibly different and that intricacy should be celebrated. We can be hard, gritty, masculine and fearless. We can smile or not smile. We can be funny or not. We can be mothers or not. We can be soft, feminine and graceful. We can be emotional. We can be cold. We can be leaders. We can drip power. Simply put, we can be whatever the hell we want to be. No one encouraged and paved the way for us to do that quite like Aretha Franklin.
With a voice that could send a chill down your spine while instantly bringing warmth to your heart and a strength that everyone can aspire to, she didn’t just make a place for herself in the music industry — she broke down the door, cementing herself there. Doing this showed us all how to fight for ourselves.
Her legacy inspired so much of the music we hear now and will continue to hear for as long as we’re alive and beyond. But it was her fearless presence, her ability to empower herself and women to be everything they wanted to be at once unapologetically — this is what made her a legend. Every facet of the soul genre — the pain, the beauty, the fearlessness, the gut-wrenching heart, the light — is what Aretha embodied in her being and in her music. Aretha didn’t sing soul. Aretha was soul. Here are my favorite Aretha songs in celebration of her life. Maybe they’ll become some of your favorites, too.
Ain’t No Way
This track breaks my heart in the greatest way. It’s my all-time favorite from her. She talks a lot about gender roles and how those are “supposed” to play out in love, while essentially begging for them to be thrown out the window. She mentions that no matter how much she loves her partner or what she may feel, she can’t be there for someone who may not love themselves or allow themselves to be loved. My favorite part comes in at 1:04 when you hear Aretha at possibly her most hauntingly beautiful. Her voice is unreal.
This piece is a celebration. This track celebrates the vulnerability in how the right love can bring you from the darkness. It’s a celebration, or a homecoming, in how that vulnerability is anything but weakness — it’s strength.
Chain of Fools
A lot of people will reference “Respect” as Aretha’s power track. I’d argue “Chain of Fools” is up there, too. It’s about a woman who has had enough of having her kindness being mistaken for weakness. You. Don’t. Mess. With. Aretha.
Something He Can Feel
The confidence and sensuality Aretha brought to this track composed by Curtis Mayfield created something that feels so good, it’s hard to ignore. You’ve probably already heard it, but do yourself a favor and listen again.
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
This is the ultimate celebration of the life and strength a great love can inspire within you. It’s the acknowledgment of finding someone who can honor the independence in you — creating power and appreciation of your individuality. Love is not dependency, or about being a mold of another. It’s a union, a fusion, and a testament to the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Being loved for being uniquely yourself and having partnership illuminate that can be an incredible experience for everyone.
What are your favorite Aretha tracks? Share them below!