Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' Celebrates 40th Birthday It has been 40 years since Aretha Franklin's rendition of Respect first topped the charts in June 1967. The song was adopted as an anthem by the civil rights and feminist movements, and has been featured in dozens of movies and television shows. Four decades later, the song is still a hit.
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Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' Celebrates 40th Birthday

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(Soundbite of song, "Respect")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) What you want, baby, I got.

NEAL CONAN, host:

Forty years ago, this Aretha Franklin record arrived with an impact of an Asteroid. "Respect" hit number one on June 3, 1967, and it's been part of our lives ever since. The song was adopted in an anthem by the civil rights movement by feminists. Music critics rank it somewhere between great and perfect. It's been featured in dozens of movies and television shows. It's still on the radio and on every karaoke machine in existence.

If "Respect" was part of a soundtrack to your life in the last four decades, tell us how. Our number is 800-989-2855. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And you can also TCB on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. Marking this momentous event with us is Kelley Carter, music reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. KELLEY CARTER (Music Reporter, Detroit Free Press): Thanks for having me here today, Neal.

CONAN: And Kelley Carter joins us from our member station in Detroit, WDET. Put this song in a broader context for us if you would. 1967, a pivotal year in the civil rights movement; the war at Vietnam is at its height - a tumultuous year.

Ms. CARTER: Absolutely, and that you also had a lot of racial disparities that were going on in 1967. I mean, the civil rights movement from a lot of different historical - people who chart, you know, history, consider it to be waning at that point in time. And people were kind of getting restless about the state of affairs, and so you had a lot of race riots or breakout all over the country as well. You know, in places like Tampa and Newark, and then here, of course, in Detroit, you had one of the country's most gross examples of a riot here. So, that song came at a time when a lot of movement was happening.

CONAN: And taken as an anthem a by a lot of the civil rights movement and a lot of people who were pretty angry too.

Ms. CARTER: Absolutely. I mean, on the surface, it's a song that's about a man and a woman and kind of the goings on inside of that relationship. But people really took a broad interpretation of that song and certainly applied it to their real lives whether it was respect inside of, you know, an office or respect, you know, inside of the real world.

CONAN: A lot of people reading between the lines of a lot of songs in those days.

Ms. CARTER: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you also have to acknowledge that 1967 was a year that a lot of really, really great music came out. So for a song to stand out amongst The Beatles and The Doors, Summer of Love and the Monterey Pop Festival, which, of course, you know, kind of introduced us to people like Janis Joplin, you really had to be doing something special. So, I would have to say that, you know, Aretha Franklin covering, you know, Otis Redding's version of "Respect" certainly, you know, was one of those songs.

CONAN: People don't tend to remember a lot, but indeed, the song was written by and first performed on record by the great Otis Redding.

(Soundbite of song, "Respect")

Mr. OTTIS REDDING (Singer): (Singing) Hey, little girl, you are sweeter than honey. And I'm about to give you all of my money. But all I want you to do…

CONAN: And you can instantly hear tremendous differences between those two versions of the same song.

Ms. CARTER: You can - it's more that, too, you know. Even some of Franklin's contemporaries, who were making music at that time, they weren't aware that Otis Redding had actually released that song beforehand. They thought it was a completely different song when Aretha came out with it. And it certainly sounds dramatically different too.

CONAN: You note that in a couple of different points in his career, Otis Redding made remarks, got my song stolen by a girl.

Ms. CARTER: He did. You know, he said that famously at the Monterey Pop Festival. And Jerry Wexler, who was 90 years old, and I was able to interview him for the story, told me that he was actually laying down this track in the studio when Otis Redding came by and kind of ruefully, you know, said, this little girl stole my record, as if he knew upon hearing that initial recording that it was going to do some really great things on the radio and in people's lives.

CONAN: Let's get some callers on the line. If you'd like to join us to reminisce about 40 years of "Respect," 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail, talk@npr.org. Martha's with us. Martha's on the line form Newt Massachusetts.

MARTHA (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call. I just had a brief comment that this song just - I can never turn it off. I always have to listen to it to the very end. It was sort of a battlecry for my friends and I when we were in college about 20 years ago, and always managed to bring out the shyest one of our roommates. And that's really kind of turned her around and got her ready for the evening.

CONAN: I don't think there's a person on the planet who's ever heard this song who has not put a fake microphone on their hands and said suck it to me or something.

MARTHA: Exactly. And we have a picture to prove it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTHA: So it's great - it's so great to have a show just on this topic. So thank you so much.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Martha. And we mentioned, Kelley Carter, the song ceased upon as an anthem by the civil rights movement, by feminists of course, but it became a universal song, as that call suggests.

Ms. CARTER: I mean, absolutely. You know, certainly the one thing that every human I think wants at the end of the day is respect. And so, for that reason alone, you know, that very simple notion really connected and resonated with a lot of different music consumers.

CONAN: The - one of the musicians on the record is with us here now, the saxophonist, Charlie Chalmers. He's also a record producer, songwriter and arranger, and one of the saxophonists on this track. And nice to have you on the program today.

Mr. CHARLIE CHALMERS (Saxophonist): Well, thank you very much. I'm honored that you called.

Mr. CHALMERS: Well, set the scene for us. The record was recorded Valentine's Day, 1967.

Mr. CHALMERS: Yes. And we recorded that at Atlantic recording studio in New York. And we were in the middle of finishing up an album on Aretha, and that was one of the songs in it of course. And it was a history in the making no doubt.

CONAN: And when it was being made, did people look around at each other and say, oh, my gosh, this is important.

Mr. CHALMERS: Yes. After the record was finished, which are about five minutes on the playback after we recorded it, because back then, we recorded everything, just about everything live, because the technology was not what it is today. And so, one of the second thing that was done after the track and the vocal was done, which Aretha sang and played piano, at the same time, did her main vocal right on the spot with the rhythm section and the horns. Those were not over dubbed. And - but she and her sister, Carol, did the back-up vocals right after the record was complete. And that afternoon, everyone was just really freaking out over what a groove it was. And it was just a natural. There was no doubt about that.

CONAN: You were one of the saxophonists, but not the person you played at…

Mr. CHALMERS: Right. King Curtis, who was also in the sax section. He played the solo. And - but I had just come off of a Wilson Pickett record, "Land of 1,000 Dances" that I had done a solo on. And so we had quite a tight little horn section there with King Curtis and myself, Floyd Newman, Wane Jackson. And so, it was tight. We played together on a lot of hits.

CONAN: I wonder, you've done an awful lot in the music business and played in an awful lot of records and an awful lot of hits. You've been a songwriter. You've done a lot of different things. I suspect maybe that one day stands out, though.

Mr. CHALMERS: Oh, it absolutely does. The times that we were recording for Atlantic, everything practically that we did was a hit at that time. And it was just a magic moment in time, for sure. And it was the change over from just, you know - for R&B music, it was the change over to pop crossover at that time. And that was when all of that happened.

CONAN: So an explosion for a lot of work, I suspect, for all of those who participated in the record and all those in the business too.

Mr. CHALMERS: Absolutely. Absolutely, it was a lot of work. And it was sort of a clique because there was a handful of us that worked together, and we worked together so well that the people that would come and record with us wanted that sound and that section, and the rhythm section as well. Roger Hawkins on drums, and also Tommy Cogbill on bass, and Chips Moman was in there on guitar, and Spooner Oldham on keyboards. It was really a great combination of people.

CONAN: And for the rest of your life, I guess that's something to be really proud of?

Mr. CHALMERS: Yes, sir, for sure. And it comes - it brings people to me even today. I have my recording studio and production company here in Branson. And I do a lot of production for a lot of young people. And that's one of the things they come to me for is to get that funky kind of sound, you know, that we created back then.

CONAN: It's sad, King Curtis killed not long after that in an incident in New York City. And of the musicians on that record, I think other than Aretha herself, you're the last survivor.

Mr. CHALMERS: Well, I think I am one of the last survivors. I haven't thought about that. Is Roger Hawkins, what about him?

CONAN: I'm not sure, though. I was told that you are the last survivor, but I'm - I may be wrong on that.

Mr. CHALMERS: I'm not so sure. I think Spooner, too, is still around with us. And so I'm not really sure about that. I know Tommy Cogbill, he died in '82. It was really freaky. I mean, he had a blood clot in his leg. And he was in recording session in Nashville at that time. And that was really shocking.

CONAN: Charlie Chalmers, we hope we're going to talk to you again in another 40 years.

Mr. CHALMERS: Well, I hope so. If things keeping on like they are, I should be around. You can check my Web site, and there's a recent picture on there. So I'm holding up pretty good.

CONAN: Charlie Chalmers, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. CHALMERS: Yes, sir. Thank you.

CONAN: Producer, arranger, songwriter, Charlie Chalmers, who played sax on Aretha Franklin's "Respect," and Kelley Carter. They put together a multimedia presentation to mark the 40th anniversary of "Respect".

And you can find it through a link at npr.org/blogofthenation. So if you want to check that out - or you can join our conversation now, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our email address is Talk@npr.org. Kelley Carter is our guest. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION FROM NPR News.

And let's get another caller on the line. This is Jack. Jack with us from Twin City(ph) in Georgia.

JACK (Caller): Yeah. Hey, how you doing?

CONAN: All right.

JACK: Yeah. I've always loved you show. I really appreciate what you guys doing what you're doing.

CONAN: Thank you.

JACK. You know, some (unintelligible) back when the Rolling Stones did their "Forty Licks" tour. Have a good fortune, a friend of mine, he's an Irish fiddler named Frankie Gavin(ph). He's played for the Stones in a couple of albums, and he's a good friend, and he invited me up to go backstage and meet Keith Richards. And I got to do that. I was really excited about that. And right before the show, Ronnie Wood came in and they talked a little bit. Then they put Aretha's "Respect" on the big CD player they had in the room there and jammed up. And it just gave me chill bumps. Absolutely amazing.

CONAN: Quite an opportunity.

JACK: Yes.

CONAN: Yeah. Jack, thanks very much.

JACK: You bet. Take care.

CONAN: And here's an email we got from Landis(ph) in Richmond, California. I've long had this question when attempting to sing along usually badly: what is the line after R-E-S-P-E-C-T? Something along the lines of take care TCB or take out ECT? And if that's not obvious, what does it mean? If you can get an answer to that, I'd be extremely grateful.

Ms. CARTER: I have an answer for him.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

Ms. CARTER: It's R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, take care TCB. And TCB is short for take care of business, which was something that was pretty popular in the black vernacular back in the 1960s. And that actually was part of an adlib that Aretha Franklin did on that song. And so, initially, with the song lyrics, it was written down incorrectly because no one knew what she was saying exactly. But what she was saying was take care TCB.

CONAN: Oh, let's get another caller on the line. Sue(ph). Sue is with us from Fort Lauderdale in Florida.

SUE (Caller): Yeah. Hi. I just want to let you know that, one time, I was heading up I-95 heading to Jacksonville, and I have the radio on very loud, of course, and I saw these people pulling off the side of the road on I-95. And I looked behind me and I see the shuttle taking off, and I was just right at Titusville, so it was really close and the smoke was going up, and "Respect" came on. And, oh, my God, I pulled off to the side of the road, and I'm sitting and watching this phenomenal vision with this beautiful song. And to this day, every time I hear "Respect," I think of that seeing that shuttle taking off. So it's just the best memory of that song. And I've always loved Aretha.

CONAN: And I think everybody would agree she has the right stuff.

Ms. CARTER: Absolutely.

SUE: And definitely was a perfect song because, all of a sudden, I have so much respect for mankind as they're pushing this vessel up toward into the sky. So it was perfect.

CONAN: Sue, thanks very much for the call.

SUE: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can squeeze in one last call. This is Andreas(ph), Andreas with us from North Carolina.

ANDREAS (Caller): Hi. How you doing?

CONAN: Okay.

ANDREAS: First of all, a big fan.

CONAN: Thank you.

ANDREAS: I love what you guys do. Thank you very much.

CONAN: And your story about "Respect"?

ANDREAS: Oh, yeah. I was deployed in Iraq with the 1st Armor Division, and we had a CD they would play before convoys that was American icon songs. And R-E-S-P-E-C-T was right before "Sweet Home Alabama" and right after "Horse With No Name," and that's why I remember it because it was the one song where everybody would know. You know, that northerners and southerners, you know, units. And that's why it will hold a place in my memory forever. Great, great song.

CONAN: Andreas, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

ANDREAS: All right. Bye.

CONAN: And I think - Kelley Carter, everybody can agree on that. This is an iconic American song.

Ms. CARTER: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's one that has certainly stood the test of time and will likely continue to stand the test of time.

CONAN: And, of course, special pride in Detroit, even though, the song was recorded in New York City.

Ms. CARTER: Even though it's recorded in New York City, it still reflects Detroit most certainly.

CONAN: Kelley Carter, thanks so much for being with us today.

Ms. CARTER: Thanks for having me here. I appreciate it.

CONAN: Kelley Carter is a music writer for the Detroit Free Press. And again, there's a multimedia presentation to mark the 40th anniversary of "Respect." And you can find it through a link at npr.org/blogofthenation. Ira Flatow is here tomorrow with SCIENCE FRIDAY. We'll see you again Monday.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News in Washington.

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