Celebrating The Queen Of Soul

I was terribly saddened by the news today of the death of Aretha Franklin, at age 76.  I’ve written before of my thoughts on this titanic talent, who had a voice that comes once in a generation.  It’s a terrible loss for American music, and for America generally.

I remember listening to Aretha Franklin on the radio when I was a kid, and in fact the very first record I ever bought — a 45, for those old enough to remember such a thing — was an Aretha Franklin record.  Back in those days the popular music stations were a lot more inclusive, and on the AM dial you could hear the Beatles, followed by an Aretha tune, followed by Cream or Crosby, Stills & Nash, or one of the many one-hit wonders of the ’60s, and then the Temptations or the Four Tops.  Unlike today, music wasn’t stratified and packaged into heavy metal stations or hip-hop stations — AM radio played it all.  And once you heard an Aretha Franklin song, even on a scratchy AM radio, you inevitably became an Aretha Franklin fan.  Her voice was just so great, and warm, and her presence was just so powerful, that you couldn’t resist it.

Many people associate Aretha Franklin with R-E-S-P-E-C-T, or Chain of Fools, but I think my favorite song is Baby, I Love You,  I’ve linked to a bad video quality YouTube clip of that song below, but who really cares about the video quality when you’re talking about Aretha Franklin?  It was her voice and her humanity that was transcendent.

And, speaking now as a 61-year-old, I think death at 76 came much too young.

Obscure Bands And Great Songs: ? And The Mysterians And 96 Tears

What can you say about a band whose lead singer is identified by a punctuation symbol?  A band that was known as one of the greatest garage bands in history?  A band that recorded a song that many critics view as the first true punk rock song?

Why so many questions?  Because the band was ? And The Mysterians — a sunglasses-wearing group that hailed from Saginaw, Michigan — and the song was 96 Tears.

On October 29, 1966, 96 Tears hit number one on the Billboard charts.  What a song!  With its hypnotic, alternatively choppy and swirling organ licks, the self-pitying, then angry, then resigned lyrics, and the great bass riff when the song shifts to “and when the sun comes up,” 96 Tears cut through the copycat sounds being played on AM radio and was instantly original and definitive.

Almost 45 years later the band is still performing the song, most recently at a show in Detroit at the end of July.  The video below, which is pretty hysterical, was recorded by the band in 1998.