#50GreatestConcerts: Aretha Franklin, 1971
Franklin remade pop and rock classics in her own image
When promoter Bill Graham booked the Queen of Soul for his San Francisco venue Fillmore West for three nights in March 1971, no one was certain the match-up would work, including Aretha Franklin herself. “I wasn’t sure how the hippies reacted to me,” she said. As Franklin’s drummer Bernard Purdie recalls, “She’d been doing what you’d call Vegas-type shows. But this was a whole different audience.” No one needed to worry. With saxman King Curtis leading a band that included Billy Preston on organ, Franklin remade pop and rock classics in her own image – turning Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” into call-and-response gospel and reworking “Eleanor Rigby” as a funky stomp.
The weekend of shows (portions of which were released a few months later as Live at Fillmore West) had an appropriately glorious finale: On the last night, Franklin pulled Ray Charles out of the crowd. Though they’d just met that day, the two traded piano and vocal parts on an epic 19-minute version of “Spirit in the Dark.” “She turned the thing into church,” Charles said later. “I mean, she’s on fire.”
Watch Aretha Franklin cover the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” below: