'Respect' Wasn't A Feminist Anthem Until Aretha Franklin Made It One Today, Franklin's recording of "Respect" is definitive. But when she recorded it on Valentine's Day 1967, it was a radical gender-bending of Otis Redding's original.

'Respect' Wasn't A Feminist Anthem Until Aretha Franklin Made It One

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On this day 50 years ago, a little-known gospel singer from Detroit went into a New York City recording studio to try to jumpstart her career.


And, man, did it work.


MCEVERS: No one saw it coming, but the song they laid down on Valentine's Day 1967 would go on to become one of the greatest recordings of all time.


ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) What you want, Baby, I got it. What you need - do you know I've got it? All I'm asking is for a little respect when you come home.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Just a little bit.

FRANKLIN: (Singing) Hey, baby...

SIEGEL: "Respect" hit the top of the charts four months later and turned Aretha Franklin into a feminist champion. It was actually a clever gender-bending of a song originally written and recorded by Otis Redding.


OTIS REDDING: (Singing) Hey, little girl. You're sweeter than honey. And I'm about to give you all of my money. But all I want you to do is just give it, give it - respect when I come home...

SIEGEL: Otis Redding's "Respect" reinforced the traditional family structure of the day - man works all day, brings money home to wife, demands her respect in return. Aretha Franklin blew that structure to bits.

MCEVERS: First, she spelled it out.


FRANKLIN: (Singing) R-E-S-P-E-C-T - find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T...

MCEVERS: Redding's song doesn't do that. It also doesn't have the backup singers and the way they interacted with each other.

SIEGEL: So much of what made "Respect" a hit and an anthem came from Aretha Franklin's re-arrangement. She recalled how it all came together when she spoke with WHYY's Fresh Air in 1999.


FRANKLIN: My sister Carolyn and I got together and was living in a small apartment on the west side of Detroit - piano by the window, watching the cars go by, and we came up with that infamous line.


FRANKLIN: (Singing) Take care, TCB, oh...

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Sock it to me. Sock it to me. Sock it to me.

FRANKLIN: It was a cliche of the day. And some of the girls were saying that to the fellows - like, sock it to me in this way or sock it to me that way. It's not sexual. It was non-sexual, just a cliche line.

MCEVERS: Aretha Franklin's "Respect" became a transformative moment not only in her career but also in the women's rights movement and the civil rights movement.

SIEGEL: Which makes you wonder, what did Otis Redding think of all this?


MARK RIBOWSKI: Well, he didn't like it (laughter).

SIEGEL: Mark Ribowski is a biographer of Otis Redding. He told NPR in 2015 that Redding eventually accepted that "Respect" no longer belonged to him.


RIBOWSKI: I mean if you see the old "Monterey," Pennebaker film, you know, he comes on stage, and he goes...


REDDING: This next song is a song that a girl took away from me.

RIBOWSKI: But he says it with the Otis charm, the little glint in the eye. And Otis couldn't begrudge her that.


FRANKLIN: (Singing) Oh, your kiss is sweeter than honey. But guess what - so is my money. All I need is just a little respect when you get home, baby.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Just a little bit.

MCEVERS: Rolling Stone called "Respect" one of the top five greatest songs of all time. They wrote, Franklin wasn't asking for anything. She sang from higher ground, a woman calling for an end to the exhaustion and sacrifice of a raw deal with scorching sexual authority. In short, if you want some, you will earn it.

SIEGEL: Happy Valentine's Day - Aretha Franklin's "Respect" recorded 50 years ago today.


FRANKLIN: (Singing) It's what I want. And respect is what I need. Oh, sock it to me. Oh, to me - lay that on me. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, I need - oh, yes I do. Oh, come on. Yes, honey - little bit - yeah, just want a little - just want a little. Oh, yes, I do. I don't want much.

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