In 1968 I bought Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Never Loved a Man The Way Love You’ at enormous cost. I was a student living off 10 shillings a week, and that album was priced at £1/12/6d or maybe more, a small fortune at that time. Later on, the albums went up to £1/17/6d. I don’t know how I and others like me (millions of us baby boomers) managed to get our hands on those albums — ‘Aretha Arrives’, ‘Soul 69’ and ‘Young Gifted and Black’ as well as all the other pop stuff… well, I do know, we used to do all sorts of work to get our hands on those sounds, which meant that the value of that music and its power was incalculable. After a year of being a student in 1968 I realised that I wanted more music and more life experience and more fun, so I dropped out of undergraduate life and went to work full time… and I suspect that Aretha’s music contributed to those potent feelings about independence and adventure that drove me up and away from university.
We had been starved of pop, R & B and jazz until the late 1960s. There is no question that when you have so little, something like access to music in that way is a privilege, and its role in one’s life takes on a new meaning, which would be difficult to explain today. Music represented freedom for real. Because of trade union restrictions about playing non-live music, The BBC only started to play recorded pop music in September 1967, and that was still restricted. Before that we accessed the dicey sounds of the ever-cheerful pirate stations broadcasting off the East Coast – Radio Caroline and Wonderful Radio London (1964 to 1967) with its Fab 40. Before that we had to fight to hear the pop music and jazz we wanted to hear – we shared albums played by travelling friends, and weekly listened to the strains of Radio Luxembourg’s top 20, heard every Sunday night under the bedclothes as it faded and returned on a borrowed and cranky transistor radio.
Today music is everywhere, and the scope and shape of that music is vast and has become underlined by the music video. We are that much poorer. The power of sound alone means that I can recall wonderful, strange and even intimate moments in my life simply by association with certain pieces of music. Music videos interfere with that poetic way of thinking.
The power of Aretha Franklin’s soul sounds belong to me and my generation, and helped form our ideas about race, harmony, understanding and of course… respect. The Queen of Soul – that glorious girl — helped to define us all with her harmonious gifts of brilliance and beauty.