A few weeks back, NPR’s All Things Considered ran my review of the new Take a Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia, a massive, 12 disc boxset that assembles 10 hours of recordings that Aretha put together in her years at Columbia in the early to mid 1960s.

I’ve been, in some form or another, been writing about this catalog for years now so it was a delight to have the set come out and have at least one more swing at talking about it. A few days later, I received an email from Leo Sacks who, among other hats, happened to be the producer of Take a Look and he was gracious enough to take some time out this past weekend to talk to me on the phone about putting together the set and what it says about Aretha’s larger legacy.

We discussed some of the lingering questions around how Aretha’s Columbia catalog should be seen and I thought Leo was both candid and philosophical about its strengths – and shortcomings – but ultimately wanted people to listen to the set less as a “before vs. after” comparison but more as an evolution over time that includes remarkable moments of transcendent music-making regardless of which label adorned her records. Here’s the main interview, complete with examples drawn from over a dozen songs.

The Sidebar #4: Leo Sacks, Aretha Franklin producer/compiler

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I also have some bonus material. Leo spoke at length about the “making of” the boxset as well as what he sees as his duty/responsibility to “legacy” recordings. Peep:

Bonus Material: Leo Sacks on the “making of” Take a Look.

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In addition to the songs on the podcast from Take a Look, we also included “pairings” with songs from Aretha’s Atlantic catalog, all of which can be found on The Queen of Soul: The Atlantic Recordings.

Related links:

  • The video promo for Take a Look
  • The Raymond Myles documentary being written and directed by Leo Sacks.
  • Aretha performing “One Step Ahead“, live.
  • My 2005 podcast on Aretha’s Columbia years.
  • Obituary for pianist, bandleader and Aretha’s first collaborator at Columbia, Ray Bryant.

    The blog, Themes for Young Lovers, recently interviewed me about my songs o’ love, sex and romance. Yeah, it’s true, I had absolutely no music at my own wedding. Like Will Hung, I have no regrets.

    As I noted, when asked “Name 3 songs that would be no-brainers to put on a mixtape for that special someone you were trying to woo”…I included nary a soul/R&B song on there. I think part of it is that my favorite soul songs tend to be about breaking up, not making up but taking a quick spin through my library, there are some soul tunes that would easily go onto my “Woo You” mixtape:

    The Impressions: Fool For You
    From This Is My Country (Curtom, 1968)

    First of all, I wouldn’t trust any potential lover who doesn’t like this song. Deal breaker. Second, it’s a powerful song that doesn’t necessarily rain down with “too much/too soon” overtures (the danger of a more powerful ballad). This says “I’m crushed on you but I’m not trying to have our name tattooed in blood on me. Yet.”

    Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information
    From Information Inspiration (Epic, 1974)

    Just tell him/her, “looking at you makes me feel the same way I do when I listen to this song.” Shameless but highly effective.

    Aretha Franklin: You Send Me
    From Aretha Now (Atlantic, 1968)

    It’s a groovier flip on Sam Cooke’s classic and it’s fun enough without laying it on too thick.

    Dennis Brown: Things In Life
    From 7″ (Sound Syndicate, 197?). Also on Money In My Pocket.

    Because lovers rock never fails. Because the melancholy in this song is deep enough to bond anyone within earshot. Because if your intended recognizes it as “that song from Chungking Express, that’s enough to confirm their exquisite cinematic taste.

    Michael Jackson: We’ve Got a Good Thing Going
    From The Stripped Mixes (Universal, 2009)

    Early MJ is charmingly innocent with just the right touch of grown-up sentiment. And the stripped mix is so irresistibly on point.

    So much more I could throw on. Feel free to add your favorite “woo tunes” in the comments.