Sidetracks: “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)

I’ve been going through a bit of an Aretha Franklin phase lately, so it seemed serendipitous when she popped up in social media for her latest album ‘Aretha Sings The Great Diva Classics’.  It’s both a remarkable testament to her talent, as well as a saddening realization, that this iteration of Aretha Franklin is by far her weakest. Her voice- though still far better than most- is a shell of what it once was, and it seems shameless that she should have to stoop to cover “Rolling In The Deep”.  

Her career followed a remarkable path from child gospel piano prodigy, to Sam Cooke protege, Columbia Records cast-off, and then her tremendous run with Atlantic Records before trailing off in the seventies with a period rivaling the decades’ own in a search for a new identity.  

That is not to say that Aretha isn’t a masterful interpreter. “Respect” was an Otis Redding song, “Chain of Fools” was written by Don Covey, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” was a Carol King number, “I Say A Little Prayer” was Hal David and Burt Bacharach. Still, “Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” was an outlier in her catalogue.

It was originally a Stevie Wonder song, though he hadn’t released a recording of it (and wouldn’t until his 1977 ‘Anthology’) before he showed it to Franklin. Listening to his original now only demonstrates just how much Franklin improves the bones of the original composition.  

The chord progression is pure Stevie Wonder, though he buried the melodic motif that becomes the centerpiece of Franklin’s version.  The rhythm section is also mostly straightforward, and Stevie’s singing conveys the material as almost naive heartbreak.

Truly, Aretha’s version is superior, thanks in part due to her magnificent backing band. Franklin plays the piano, Donny Hathaway fills in on the bouncing (and almost hidden) Fender Rhodes, Hugh McCracken plays the only guitar, while Chuck Rainey (bass) and Bernard Purdie (drums) fill out the rhythm section.  

It’s Rainey and Purdie who hold the key, playing with a hitched gait that elongates Franklin’s vocal phrases and Franklin herself, who conveys that desperation as hopeful despair. The flute solo, in vogue at the time, is truly the only flaw.

Inner Grooves:

Songwriters:

Morris Broadnax, Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder

Personnel:

Aretha Franklin: Piano, Vocals
Margaret Branch: Backing vocals
Pat Smith: Backing vocals
Donny Hathaway: Electric Piano (Rhodes)
Richard Tee: Organ
Kenneth Bichel: Synthesizer
Hugh McCracken: Guitar
Chuck Rainey: Bass
Bernard Purdie: Drums

Further Connections:

Bonnie Raitt’s album ‘Nick of Time’. Similar vocal phrasing and dynamics.

Aretha Franklin – Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)

Sidetracks

Self promotion is never a good thing, in fact it comes off mostly as desperate and uncouth.  But I’m not promoting myself in this case, this next song is a cover of the National’s 90 mile water wall done by my brother, its pretty low fidelity but he recorded it on a mac just using the built in mic, still its very well done and i did some after the fact editing to try to bring out his vocal more and get more space on the lead guitar, see what you think

90 Mile Water Wall

This next track is off of an EP Spoon did in collaboration with Bright Eyes back in 2004 and typical of both bands its a great melody as well as great lyrics that drives this song about long distance love.

Let The Distance Keep Us Together

And lastly a great old school Motown track, This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You) by a very young Isley Brothers who would later be known for such songs as Who’s That Lady and providing the funky samples behind Ice Cube’s It Was A Good Day and many other rap songs.  This song however is pure Motown, great melody, great vocals and lyrics focused on falling in love and finding it

This Old Heart of Mine ( Is Weak For You)