Aretha Franklin had been recording for six years prior to her 1967 breakthrough release for Atlantic, "I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You." Those early records for Columbia are often dismissed. Miss Franklin doesn't quite nail any particular style, with a repertoire over six or so records covering all genres imaginable, including dixieland jazz. But every one of those records has at least three or four gems, with 1964's "Running Out Of Fools" and 1966's "Soul Sister" being the most consistent.
In 2007, Rhino released a 2-CD set of "Rare & Unreleased Recordings," including some demos and alternate takes. I have a vague recollection of hearing that set for the first time. I know I liked it, but I don't remember why.
Yesterday, I was taking a walk and something popped up on the iPod that stopped me in my tracks, literally. I stood frozen in the middle of Astoria Park and wept. It was a demo of "Sweet Bitter Love," which Aretha had recorded for the aforementioned "Soul Sister" album. But this version was different.
The original single, produced by Clyde Otis, is a great record, but it is a pop record. Of course, Miss Franklin gives it her best and adds more than a touch of soul, but all told, it borders the land of schmaltz. You can listen below.
I have this vision of Aretha walking into the Atlantic Studios, sitting at the piano and saying "Let's give this one another go." The vocal performance on this unreleased demo is one of the most heartbreaking I have ever heard. Listen above.