Knew You Were Waiting: The Best of Aretha Franklin 1980-1998
Jun 29, 2012 Web Exclusive
It used to be both popular and lame for people to say things like, "Oh, I love everything such and such artist/band has done, except for their '80s stuff." You hear that less and less these days, and it probably has a lot to do with all the '80s revivalism, nostalgia-pop, and record collection rock that's come out of the last decade of popular music. I guess the further we get from the 1980s, the better that decade sounds. The 2000s saw revivals of everything from New-Wave to hair metal, from goth to Chicago house, and thanks to acts like Chromeo, a very specific brand of disco-infused funk and R&B got its second chance too. So then it's no surprise that a collection of Aretha Franklin singles drawn primarily from the 1980s manages to sound, at times, both fresh and retro cool.
Not unexpectedly, Knew You Were Waiting's two standout tracks, "Jump To It" and "Get It Right," were penned (and produced) by R&B's enduring influential genius, Luther Vandross, and the insanely talented composer and instrumentalist, Marcus Miller. These tunes are the funkiest and most groove-oriented of the set. Then there's 1985's "Freeway of Love" and "Who's Zoomin' Who," which are dated for sure, but still they remain some of Franklin's most endearing tracks.
Another popular '80s format, the duet, takes up most of the space on Knew You Were Waiting, with the clear winner being Franklin's energized pairing with The Eurythmics on "Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves." Other installments, like the popular title track, "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)," performed with George Michael; the Albert Hammond and Diane Warren penned "Through The Storm," performed with Elton John; and "Ever Changing Times," performed with Michael McDonald and co-written by Burt Bacharach, are all about as exciting as superstar pop pairings tend to be, which is to say, they're pretty lackluster, and even tedious. The 1986 remake of "Jumpin' Jack Flash," recorded for the Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name, features Keith Richards on guitar and—much like the film—is charming, but pretty silly. The 1989 duet with the recently deceased and magnificently talented Whitney Houston, "It Isn't, It Wasn't, It Ain't Never Gonna Be," is a bittersweet reminder of Houston's power at the peak of her success. Though not a duet, per se, one of three post-1980s tracks on Knew You Were Waiting, 1998's "A Rose Is Still A Rose," is nice enough, but totally forgettable, and was written and produced by Lauren Hill (who also provides superfluous background vocals).
Although it's unlikely Franklin's '80s work will see a resurgence in popularity, like the one currently being enjoyed by Hall & Oates (which can also be partly credited to Chromeo), her remarkable gifts as a vocalist and performer are readily apparent on this compilation. And even though nobody really needs reminding of Aretha Franklin's brilliance, nor should we pretend that by 1980 her most seminal work wasn't more than a decade behind her, the bulk of the material on Knew You Were Waiting is a total joy to listen to. (www.arethafranklin.net)
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