CAROLYN FRANKLIN: DYNAMITE, BABY


Carolyn Franklin: I Don’t Want to Lose You
From Baby Dynamite (RCA, 1968)

Carolyn Franklin: You Really Didn’t Mean It
From Chain Reaction (RCA, 1970)

Both on Sister Soul: The Best of the RCA Years.

Carolyn Franklin: Deal With It
From If You Want It (RCA, 1976)

(Originally written for Side Dishes)

The fates of the Franklin sisters – Aretha, Erma and Carolyn – comprise a classic American tragedy. One, Aretha, would go onto spectacular fame and worldwide acclaim (big bow and all) while her sisters, Erma and Carolyn, had brief careers as recording artists but never enjoyed anywhere near the same success. Far worse though, both succumbed to cancer – Erma survived into her 60s, but Carolyn passed away at only 43.

The youngest of the three, Carolyn may have been in her sisters’ shadows but she also contributed to both their careers as a songwriter. Especially for Aretha, Carolyn helped co-write her enormously successful “Save Me” and was also behind the mesmerizing torch song, “Ain’t No Way.” This video (alas, the quality is quite degraded) shows Aretha and Carolyn rehearsing an early version of the song and Aretha makes a special point to big up her little sis.

Carolyn released a handful of singles in the mid-1960s but it wasn’t until 1968, when she signed with RCA, that she had her first major opportunity to make it on her own. What is readily obvious from any of her recordings in that era is that she was not trying to follow Aretha’s footsteps in either singing or sound. Carolyn wasn’t blessed with the singular voice that her older sister had but she shows the influence of good training and natural ability to project herself with power and clarity.

“I Don’t Want to Lose You” was one of her first singles for RCA and the very beginning reflects Carolyn’s deep gospel roots with a slow-building opening of multi-part choral harmonies that then shifts into a slinky mid-tempo funk tune that allows her to demonstrate why her debut LP was called Baby Dynamite.

“You Didn’t Really Mean It” comes from Carolyn’s second album, Chain Reaction and this power ballad shows some of the creative production and arrangement details her collaborators Wade Marcus, Jimmy Radcliffe and Buzz Willis (amongst others) put into the effort. Listen to the force of the brass section which is used sparingly but wisely and Carolyn flows into the song with passion and intensity.

I end with a song off of Carolyn’s 1976 album, If You Want Me. With a feel reminiscent of Aretha’s “Rocksteady,” Carolyn lays down a slice of funky soul that’s become a favorite amongst connoisseurs. Alas, this would be one of her last albums; she stopped recording on her own after this point and within 10 years, she was gone, undersung but not unaccomplished.

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